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.