Veterans Day

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calendarNovember 12, 2017

I’m a Vietnam era veteran.

My father retired from the Army after 30 years of service to his country.. On his headstone at Fort Sill Army cemetery it reads, “CMJ Otis A Smith, WWII, Korea & Vietnam. He fought in all 3 wars.

My oldest brother was a bona fide war hero. My son, Michael Scott Alexander Smith wrote a piece on him several years before he passed away and I promise you it is worth the read.

Thanks to all the veterans who have served our country in the past and those who are currently serving.

God Bless America

My Uncle Bob

My uncle Bob is a war hero who rides a motorcycle. It took me four decades to realize, accept, and finally to admit that he was the former and to even care about the latter. He did not graduate from high school; rather, like his father before him, he dropped out to become a patriot. Within a few years he was designated soldier of the year. At 24 he was the platoon leader of the 9th infantry in Vietnam. This was a group of which movies and documentaries—not legends—are made. Amid rice patties men were shot in twain and mama’s boys were picked off the planet by other mama’s boys who spoke another language (doesn’t the enemy always speak another language?). Future presidents were watching it from another angle and even another country while my uncle watched it from just a few feet away in a jungle he could previously have never imagined.

Comprehension was washed away with blood of the unknown comrades, felled by orders that often failed them. Hearts became hardened and egos swelled and so little was accomplished that the next generation would never even try to understand it. What was it all about? Who won? How and When and Why? Many do not even know or care where…just a little time into the past and this is all you get: interrogatives.

So after a silver star, four bronze stars, two purple hearts (with the declining of others lest he be sent home) and the Vietnamese cross of gallantry (with special permission from the President to wear a foreign medal), my uncle returned to the states where beatniks and hippies threw rocks at him. Even loyalists spat on him out of frustration for the waste of time and money—never mind the life lost among both the quick and the dead. So it was immediately that he closed the iron door to this chapter of life and gave away the awards and accolades and never responded to any questions or flattery or charity ever again.

That is, until last year. That is when he found out that a “grateful nation” would finally support him in retirement and pay medical bills and pensions long due. And with few left to understand the extent of his honors, Uncle Bob would humble himself to explain to me how there are no such thing as heroes—only fools who got lucky. The action of having his watch blown off his arm happened quickly. To almost lose his mind is what took a long time. But the heart is a resilient organ, and time it’s only healing agent.

And so on that icy cold day in December as I watched him strut away from me to the entrance of the airport with his white hair gleaming ermine-like in the sun, I gave a salute to him behind his back—a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Not just for making him, but for making him family. And when the doors closed I could still see in my mind’s eye the scars on his arms—the metals, not medals, that he silently forever bears. And for them you read this freely, just as I wrote it freely, and Uncle Bob rides on his Harley in peace.

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