Is your flag out for the Fourth of July? Okay….I’ll wait while you go anchor it to the porch. Mine is bungee-corded to the wrought iron support. I admit it looks a bit tacky, but it isn’t going anywhere. So….how are you celebrating our country’s freedom?
This year, I have to admit that I have a new appreciation for the 4th. Usually I just think of birthdays, as my daughter was born on July 5th, and I took her home from the hospital on my birthday, July 8th. Never got a better gift. She came a couple of weeks early as I thought it would be fun to play volleyball and laugh hysterically at a July 4th cookout. Birth with fireworks; now that is hard to top.
But I owe my humbling appreciation of this Fourth of July to my neighbor, John. On last Veteran’s Day, my church was honoring those who had served in the military. Now, I knew John was a Purple Heart recipient, and invited him to come. He declined my invitation, but allowed me to take his hallowed medal and some photos to church. But the best gift was his story on how he came to earn such a medal.
My son and I sat at the dining room table processing the horrors of his tour of duty in Viet Nam. But John smiled and put the injuries he sustained in an amusing narrative. I sat in awe as he described a high-ranking officer coming into his hospital room and pinning his Purple Heart to his pillow. John explained that his injuries were such that he could not wear a hospital gown, so that is what the Army did: pinned the medal to the pillow. He shared that he would work hours to angle his broken body so he could actually peer at his Purple Heart. I have never met such a forgiving soul. Sure, the disability has some perks; free medical care at the Indy V.A. Hospital, and two free pairs of shoes a year. John does not complain, but wants nothing to do with fireworks. Says he stays in with the TV up really loud….night terrors still plague him, and the booms of the fireworks mentally put him back in combat. If I could, I would silence every thunderous noise. He deserves this.
So here I am, decorating my yard with flags and feeling free. And oh, so humble. The guy two doors down, who helps me shovel snow, runs after my dogs when they get loose, or makes me smile with his quick wit…has paid such an enormous debt for me. When I was just a young girl, so very unconcerned with war, John was bravely ensuring my freedom. He suffered greatly, and yes, often silently, and came home to a country that hated much of his efforts. We should be ashamed. Following orders leaves no room for personal opinions or political argument. A good soldier wades through the jungle, watches out for his buddies, and when the land mine erupts, leaves half of his body–and sanity– in the Asian soil.
And John’s story reflects that of millions. I am certain that you have a similar experience of knowing individuals who came home from a war and settled back into a neighborhood without fanfare, handshakes, or thank you’s. Unassuming heroes, you might say.
John and I wave daily and engage in neighborhood small talk. But never will I forget his story, his sacrifice, and his courage. John is not just another Viet Nam vet; he is a distinguished Purple Heart Hero who has transformed all of my Fourth of July’s, Veterans’s Days, and Memorial Days into spans of time of sincere thanks and deserved awe. Land of the free and home of the brave, indeed; Thank you, John.