I have thought of you often over the years. When I was a child we scurried through the woods with our muskets made of sticks imagining tri-cornered hats and knee britches. We pretended to be like you: valiant and brave, resisting the redcoats from behind rock and tree.
Later we played with our blue and gray plastic soldiers, each the size of a bullet. We organized field battles. Cannon were lined up aimed at ranks of men as they moved forward into the maw.
One day the Indians surrounded you as you stood back to back … holding out. I saw the Indian warrior too. It was just as good to be an Indian sometimes.
Years passed as I watched you fighting in the movies. I devoured each scene as from every branch of military service you offered your lives in the name of God and country. Honor and dignity would swell in my bony chest. I wanted to be like you.
I saw you on television crouching through the jungle. The helicopters brought you in with guns blazing. Then they came and carried you away … sometimes prostrate … bleeding.
I went on a ship far away. No, I did not stare death in the face as you did. I saw its wake. I tasted its devastation. I sensed its presence but I did not have to smell its breath as you did.
I saw the look in a young marine’s eyes as he readied to go “in country” on a night recon. I still see him there in the top rack like a small child in a man’s body looking over the bunk bed rail when he thinks the “boogey man” is in the closet.
I saw you when the high school hero strode into the VA office. For a moment he knew me … then he saw something in the air … he was remembering. He forgot what he came for then turned and walked away … head down … mumbling to himself.
I saw you in your wheelchair at the local pub. We drank too much as you tried to forget the moment you became broken.
Today I see you in the deserts, mountains and cities; fighting, protecting, healing, building.
I see you at the stoplight, in the park, in the pew at church.
You are revered and held high in our minds and hearts. Regardless of politics or history, right or wrong, you have sacrificed for the benefit of your fellows.
When I was a child, I pretended to be like you … valiant and brave. Wherever you are … please know this … we remember. We see you with our hearts. We are eternally grateful.