I was telling my friend, John, who is a US Air Force Vet that he was only kind-a-sort of in the service; on account of him being in the Air Force. He smirked, and tossed back at me that I was National Guard, ‘Nuff said. In our timeless service on service jaw jacking that is enduring to the members of all the armed forces. We were bantering over a patient who would be dead soon. He was a salty old guy, in his early eighties, a small knit cap over his head, one eye squinted shut, flesh hanging on his bones like a worn blanket draped over a rocking chair.
“You boys serve?” He said out the side of his dry mouth.
We both paused, and like clock work spouted off our branch and MOS, still bantering about which service was better, when he took in a deep breath, let his chest puff up and mustered up a proud voice that came deep from his gut.
“Tank commander. Second Division. Patton’s Army. “
John and I were a little speechless. And the ensuing conversation was mesmerizing to say the least.
I was looking over one of my home health patient’s legs one day, a gentlemen in his nineties. They were purple and riddled with small sores from years of poor peripheral vascular circulation. His skin was pock marked and laced with liver spots. His face pale and drawn out, eyes heavy with age. But he sat proud as I redressed his legs and instructed his daughter on how best to manage them. Then packed up to leave.
“It finally caught up with me, I guess.” He said as I shook his hand and told him when I’d be back.
“What was that?”
“The cold, it finally caught up with me.”
I was little confused. “The cold?”
“In the Ardennes. It was too damn cold. Finally caught up to me, I guess.”
Damn. I stayed an hour longer, just listening to him talk. I could have stayed longer.
“Damn, she was hot. Red head and all. Her and her friend were stewardesses with the plane I was on. Wanted to give me a special night home on leave. God, Ben, let me tell you-”
I was sitting with my friend Pete, a Vietnam vet, as he told me about a night he had on leave with a couple gals that wanted to show a strapping young, six foot tall ginger a good time before he went back to the jungle. He trailed off and stared at the ground. Shoulders that were raised and proud, now sunken, and a smile that was wide as his cheeks would allow, faded. “Worked for bit too. I almost forgot about putting my best friends guts back inside him.”
I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting some great people. I don’t have enough time to share all of the stories that I have had the honor of sitting and listening to, but these are a few that have made me remember why I do what I do.
I’ve been fortunate that way I guess. Being around people of normal stature, who have done things far beyond imagination or comprehension. I don’t think enough people get that these days. Get a chance to be in touch with humanity that way. See despair and suffering, met with grit and determination. To die, and then wake up breathing. To get the opportunity to see people at their worst, and to see people at their best; to see adversity defeated by strength of will.
Whether it’s getting to sit and bullshit with WW2 vets that have been at the battle of the bulge, or marched from Africa to Germany, or suffered through Pearl Harbor, or hammered through the waves at Tarawa, or ones that cried when the bomb dropped, because they could finally go home. Whether they ran MASHs in jungles far, far away, or fought in trenches and foxholes, and jumped from planes into a canopy of terror, or climbed through mountain goat trails and marched across the deserts in the mind numbing heat. Men and Women who have lost too much, but who still find a way to smile at you and tell you a salty joke. It is one of the many things that drives me everyday.
Because of them I have gotten to see my boys turn into young men. I have gotten to find a timeless love, and live in fantasy. I have got to enjoy a family of minis that play magic on my heart everyday. And I have friends that will span over lifetimes.
Why do we do the things that we do? Why it is that we fill our schedule and push our limits? Because we’re fighting to hold onto another day, to see our family and friends again, to see adventure one more time. Because we hope that one-day we live up the men and women that came before us; and hope that maybe we can do enough to inspire the ones that come after.
Hard times make hard people. Live Uncommon.
- October 17, 2016
- UCB STAFF