Dorothy Harris

Visiting a veteran

This past Veterans Day, I had the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people who have been quietly hidden under the cloak of time. These former soldiers and nurses shared stories of their youth, serving our country and fighting for freedom because as they said, "It was what we were told to do and so we did it." Many of their friends and comrades have passed on and their days of flying "new-fangled" machines called helicopters are long past. Speaking down through decades, they shared stories of being young teens, barely adults, and flying all over the world. Australia, China, Russia and a lot of other places I have yet to see and honestly, may never see in my lifetime, all places they had been before they turned 25. "Oh, I did get homesick," shared one lady, who long ago was a beauty in a nurse's uniform, enlisting rather than taking a chance on being drafted. "You didn't speak of it, but sure, I was homesick, especially when I was in Italy." Imagining these folks, sitting next to me in their elderly state, as youths flung all over the globe in wartime is enough to make anyone's head spin. Picking up a framed photo, with a smile captured, then encased in glass some 60 years ago, I was still able to discern who at the table was featured. Time may have altered their appearance, but their eyes still sparkled with the same smile. Hearing tales of how they met their spouse in the infirmary or lost multiple brothers and sisters is sobering still, over 50 years later.
Considering what they had seen and learned through their experiences made me respect them all the more. I couldn't help but wonder how I would have managed had I been born in that era. Would I have been suited for service across the globe, in a land where I knew not the customs or language? If at home, would I have been able to raise the children alone, never knowing where or when my darling would return to lay eyes on his child for the very first time long after they had begun walking? Somehow the ensuing generations are different. Not necessarily in a bad way, but certainly not cut of the same cloth as our Greatest Generation which bore the tragedies and trauma of wartime with dignity and honor. Banded together in one purpose, they seemed content with their place and duties, something our younger generations still struggle with today in the midst of plenty. We know little of what they have endured through their lifetimes, mostly because we don't take time to learn. History from a book becomes the only truth known, when the living, breathing teacher is available and more than willing to share the real story if only someone would care to listen. They wait for a visitor who might want to hear all they have to share and who is able to grant them the gift of time. These can't be hurried conversations like the ones we seem content with in these days of instant communication and texting. This is knowledge that is imparted one thread at a time, woven over days and months of dedicated conversation. The cost of your time, however, yields a story more grand than one might expect, more shocking than one might imagine and always remarkable, regardless of the person or place. Consider visiting a veteran and ask them to share their story. Hush and listen to be guaranteed a tale that will touch your heart and enrich your life.