By Boot Girl Myra
“Where were you when I came home from Vietnam?” a man asked me after I explained why I was wearing combat boots. My response, although very sincere, had to be heartbreaking for him. ‘I was a little girl when you came home” I replied. Seeing his disappointment I continued; “but I wish we as Americans had treated you better. You were, after all, sent into battle without a choice and you served your country. The least we could have done as a nation was welcome you home.” He was dumbfounded, tears welling up in his eyes, he said very quietly “thank you” and walked away.
Not ten minutes later I found myself talking to a veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He’s a young man with a wife and three kids whose desire in life was to help people. He was a medic, sent to help the wounded. His training was all about saving lives, not inflicting a wound of death in combat. He came home a changed man, and his life hasn’t been the same since. Although he has good support and somewhat worked past his “demons” from his tour of duty, his life isn’t what he dreamed or imagined. Stricken with Gulf War Syndrome, he’s been treated for cancer and just last week was notified he had a 5 year life expectancy after they discovered tumors in his brain. We proceeded to talk about the importance of picking one or two things on his bucket-list and making it a goal to see or do them sooner rather than later. But after some time he concluded, “I’ll get to it but for now I have to provide for my family, they must have something when I’m gone.”
Since those conversations I’ve been mulling over some very hard truths about the cost of freedom. Like for instance while I’m nestled on my couch with my children, this man is working diligently to leave something for his, whom, he pointed out will graduate from high school without him around. I envisioned that Vietnam veteran arriving home to jeers, while as a little girl marching in the local city parade I received applause for my “pioneer girl” costume. Both served their country, I’m merely a consumer of the freedoms they were sent to protect.
We celebrate our independence in just a few weeks and this year I have a vastly different perspective; although I’ve always been patriotic. It’s sad and joyful at the same time. I am keenly aware that I have no clue about the realities of war and what it cost others to serve this country. I read Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor last summer and realize 6 years ago when you and I were out eating watermelon and enjoying fireworks, he was hunkered down in a cave, being hunted by the Taliban. The mere use of the word “hunted” to describe a human being gives me chills.
All of these thoughts bring me to the question I ask not only of myself but those of you who follow the Boot Campaign. Would you take the next 21 days and purposely tell a Vietnam veteran “welcome home”? Could you step out of your comfort zone and say the one thing they never got when they left a controversial war zone and came home? It’s amazing to me how healing the words “welcome home” can be, especially for those whose lives are altered, shortened or under-appreciated for their service. Step out of your comfort zone, and thank those who entered the war-zone for you, no matter what war, it was done with you in mind.