I had an appointment to see my Korean War veteran friend at the veterans’ home yesterday, to work on editing. Since this was Memorial Day weekend, I brought him flowers—and he was astonished about that, probably because he has no family to ever bring him any. We chatted most of the afternoon about his war stories. He is quite excited to finally see his collection of journal notes turning into pages for a book. And what a job! The notes were scribbled down out in the battlefield and carried to the States by returning soldiers who then mailed them to his Stateside address. After retiring from his civilian work life, he spent a few years transcribing the scribbles, then a kind woman visiting her husband at the veteran’s home typed up the rewritten notes. By some odd happenstance, I came into the picture to help create the book. Strange how life works out, but I have a great new friend now, and what awesome and awful stories he has.
Sometimes I am afraid to ask my veteran friend too many questions about his war experiences, but he is always happy to answer them. He was a medic, so he quickly learned to detach from horror in order to do his job well, but I suppose he enjoys having a friend who is such an interested listener, one whose face I know must regularly look incredulous. He has such an upbeat attitude and the war is far behind him, but PTSD lurks in the shadows. He can be watching a tennis match on TV and suddenly the screen becomes the battlefield. He relives seven particular scenes – his seven demons, he calls them—but he has learned to manage them. There are other veterans at the home whose screams at night speak of fiercer demons.
It’s Memorial Day weekend—where’s the party? Fire up the grill and get on the burgers, but be sure to lift up a beer to honor our war veterans. Those who have survived wars have sacrificed a part of their souls to a hell made by man, and the rest of us can sleep well at night.
For another story about the importance of Memorial Day, read Mustang Koji’s touching post about Old Man Jack, a ground crew chief during WWII: Two Old Keys to Memorial Day.
Although it is Memorial Day and not Veteran’s Day, I think you were quite accurate in that many veterans sacrificed a part of their soul in war times. I’ll put my flag out tomorrow and raise a cold one to all military people, living or not, in their honor.
Yes, one of my veteran friend’s stories ends with a reference to John Donne’s quote: No man is an island … any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” On Memorial Day I can’t help but think of the living as well as the dead.
You are fortunate, Linda, that he will chat with you…and supported by his typewritten “scribbles”… Similar to Eugene Sledge… I so much wanted to hear about my neighbors’ combat experiences – not for the ugliness but for history as you are doing. It wasn’t enough just to be there when they regurgitated something but I had to respect their sanity.
Good luck… and thank you for the mention. 😉
Yes, Koji, many people – civilians, too – cannot speak of their war experiences and we have to respect that and not cause further damage. My friend is passionate about giving testimony against war and the accompanying depravity, and to tell the truth about what happened during the Korean War – in case we start thinking about going to war against North Korea or China again. I’d better hurry up and get this book done.
You and your friend are both lucky to have found each other, Linda. What a powerful experience it must be for you to hear history first hand, and how fortunate for him to have found someone so capable of putting it on a page. Very appropriate Memorial Day post!