Robert C. Laws


Who is a Vet?

Sometimes you see them gray before their time and sometimes it’s with a scar from eye to mouth. Sometimes it’s because they have all these blue spots and sometimes they have an arm or a leg missing. Sometimes it’s a look in their eye, and sometimes it’s because they can’t look you in the eye. Sometimes it’s because of a faraway look in their eyes and sometimes it’s because of the tears in their eyes.

Sometimes you can’t see it because it’s a pin holding bone together or it’s shrapnel that’s buried too deep to look like a blue spot. Sometimes it’s a jagged scar that threatens to rip their heart apart and sometimes it’s because of no heart at all. Sometimes it’s because that inner steel has been tempered by war and sometimes it’s because that steel has been made brittle from being tempered too quickly.

Sometimes it’s because you hear a kind word from someone in a business suit and who has his arm around someone who looks like he’s homeless. Sometimes it’s because you hear her scream at the child saving him from certain death from the on coming car because she’s already seen too many children she couldn’t save. Sometimes it’s the mean old man down the street who nobody likes because he’s always yelling at them when they misbehave because he saw too many other “kids” misbehave, costing them their life.

Sometimes you get lucky and you see them on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, or July the 4th as they are wear an old uniform with lots of medals and ribbons. Sometimes you get to hear of the stories, not so much to brag, but so much to warn and relieve the pain. Sometimes you get to read about them in the newspaper and sometimes you get to read a poem or story.
Most times, you can’t tell a vet just by looking.

Who else is a vet you ask?

He is the fireman in a hot suit who spent six months in Arab desert sweating two gallons a day making sure the tanks and choppers carriers didn’t run out of fuel. He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than a box of rocks, whose immature behavior is just a defense against the memories of his incredible bravery, valor, and cold as a Marine at Frozen Chosin in Korea
It’s the nurse who fought against the endless stream of mangled and damaged bodies going to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years worried that the next one would be her twin brother and knowing that he was somebody’s brother.

She is the MIA/KIA who went away and didn’t come back.

He is the drill instructor who has never seen combat – but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account, jail evading, gang member troublemakers into America’s Heroes, teaching them to watch each other’s backs and to love one another as only a band of brothers and sisters could.

He is the one in the parade who pins on his ribbons and medals with a metal claw in a wheel chair pushed by the career quartermaster who weeps in frustration for never being allowed to be there and save his friend.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket – with gnarled hands and infuriatingly slow – who watched his life long friend die in his arms in Korea and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come. He is the mean old man down the street, who never has a nice word, but who was the first in line when that little one went missing because while she’s not his little girl, she’s some other Daddy’s little girl.

He is the one who cries for no apparent reason every time he hears the Star Spangled Banner. He is the one who never got to say good-bye to his youth – because he willingly sacrificed it for all of those who wouldn’t.

He is the one who used to cut your grass during the summer, such a nice young boy, whose ashes were the only thing to come home from some far away place whose name you can’t pronounce and which sits on the mantle in a brass urn. He is the one you thought not good enough for your daughter when he went away and when he returned you wished he were your own son.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being – a person who offered some of his life’s most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs. He is a soldier, sailor, airman and marine. He is a savior, a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor died unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deep.

When you see them down and out, is it too much to buy them a meal and a warm bed? Does that wee sacrifice on your part begin to equal the sacrifice on his or her part? When you see them at the store, is fifty cents too much? Is it too much to ask to shake their hand because you get to go to school? Is it too much to ask to kiss them on the cheek because you get to go the church of your choice or to any church at all?

Surprisingly for us, all our troubles, all our pain, all our effort, all our sacrifice, and all that we are is made better with a simple thank you. That’s all most of us need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medal ever made. After all, don’t you say thank you to your dog for being a “good boy”?

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say those two magic words, THANK YOU.

Author’s Note: The following was created on the birthday of the Marine Corps, November 10, 2003 and for Veteran’s Day.