It was another bright sunshiny day in Los Angeles, but the man standing outside the airport waiting for a shuttle bus looked like rain. I could almost feel his sadness."It was 10 degrees when I left home in West Virginia this morning," he said after we were comfortably seated in the van. "There must have been snow or ice," I replied. Then, for no reason, added, "I lived in northern Virginia for 16 years and I love the snow.
I worked in the Pentagon. Are you visiting relatives here?" "No, I treat myself to one trip out here every year to see a ball game.".Then suddenly he was talking about returning from Vietnam, landing at the airport in San Bernardino, and getting on a bus to go to Camp Pendleton.
He was in the Marine Corps then and he couldn't understand why people were calling them names and throwing things at the troops. He was looking straight ahead, but cast a quick glance in my direction. "Things I can't even mention in public.
" That hurt so bad, when he got to his room, he cried. "I tried to understand," he said. "It's a free country and they could protest. But why the insults? We didn't do anything wrong. I still think of it sometimes and when it gets so bad I can't stand it, I go for a walk in the woods.
And I cry.".I told him that I'd written the logistics support plan for the burial of the unknown serviceman from Vietnam. He turned to look at me and was very still. Then he reached over and put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it slightly. "Then you know what I'm talking about, don't you.
" I nodded, thinking of other Vietnam Vets who had shared similar sentiments. I asked if he had ever visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. "Oh, no," he said and sat quietly. His mouth moved and his lips were moist, but he didn't say anything. I could see the torment in his face.
It was too hard to do.He told of his mother and father passing away. "I buried them," he said, "and I cried. I won't go to funerals any more. I send wreaths, and cards, but I don't want to cry again.
" I asked him about the facilities for veterans in West Virginia. They have fine facilities, he said. "The psychologists have encouraged me to go in and talk to them. But if I do that, it dishonors the Corps.
It makes us look less than honorable, don't you think?" I told him it was okay to get help and that it seemed like he had found a way to cope. "When the first President Bush said the parade for the military coming home from the Gulf War was for all of us, that helped a lot. I thought 'Finally, we're getting a welcome home.'".
This vet is not angry or bitter. He is dealing with vivid memories of his fellow Americans turning on him and his buddies. He seems to be still trying to reconcile his role in preserving our freedoms with having those freedoms turned against him. And when it gets to be more than he can stand, he walks in the woods and he cries.
"You understand, don't you?".When the shuttle pulled up to my place, he stepped down and offered his hand to help me out. He held on, looked me in the eyes, and said, "Thank you for being there for him at the burial.".We Americans all need to be there for military men and women of today and the veterans who served in times past.
That's the least we can do to preserve our freedoms. God bless America..Jo Condrill served as a supervisor in the Pentagon and graduated from the US Army War College. She publishes a free monthly online newsletter focused on communication & leadership skills.
Visit her website http://www.goalminds.com Her weblog is at http://www.goalminds.com/weblog.
By: Jo Condrill