In honor of this day (observed) and yesterday's actual holiday and all of the people it personally impacts, I am sharing a poignant memory of meeting a soldier. Again, there are thousands of people willing to go and do what I am not willing to go and do. For that, I am thankful. Happy Veteran's Day.
Excuse me, ma'am," he offered as he nodded toward the window. I didn't
notice until I stood to let him pass and he tucked into the seat next to
me. The lower half of his leg built by cosmesis rather than what he was
given at birth. He wore his standard issue fatigues but the pant leg on
one side revealed an artificial limb. His persona seemed old soul. And
the fatigues and limb would lend an older, more seasoned appearance
than his face ever could. He didn't look old enough to buy cigarettes.
We were flying to Seattle from Atlanta. He had recently returned to the
US from a third consecutive tour in Iraq. This time, with a permanent
injury coupled with an honorable discharge. As we shared a
conversation, I was astounded at the level of calm and ease he used to
talk about the real-life scenarios that seemed brutal and surreal to me.
When he revealed he had just turned 22, I sensed the formidable
sadness in his voice that his "career" as he hoped it would develop, was
It wasn't the loss of part of his body that disenchanted him, but that
commitment to the Armed Forces had been prematurely disrupted. His
willingness to serve, to stand, to sacrifice could no longer be engaged
by the United States Military.
I asked him how he maintained not only the enthusiasm to rise to be
assiduous every day in such an extreme environment, but also the belief
that the war was the right action in the grim and very real face of
death. He said everyone doesn't. War and the caustic realizations of
what it truly means is not the
same as reading about it in the news. But he felt he had no alternative.
Once you enlist, you are committed for life. He followed with, "Or
until you have no choice," indicating his leg.
I certainly could not compare notes or offer anecdotes about "I know how
you feel." My greatest imagination could not conjure up what a single
and real day in that environment would be like.
"How do you feel about returning home?" I asked.
He was contemplative before answering, "A little lost."
Death could have taken him. Another name on a long roster that goes
beyond this war into every corner of every country. While he did
sacrifice a limb, he certainly never forfeited his valor, or his
ambition. And hopefully that ambition would become bigger, and broader
to help him navigate his way. A way beyond feeling irrevocably
In baggage claim at SeaTac, I saw her before she saw him. The face
washed with what only comes from holding your breath for three tours of
duty. The look of impatience and searching superimposed over a very real
foundation of frantic. She could only be at peace perhaps when she
could see him, and hug him with her own arms. When she saw him, she
pulled on the arm of the man with her. He couldn't get to the boy fast
enough. His son.
When he introduced me, I saw in his parents the awe of having their
child back. They were proud. And they were relieved. And the force of it
made me relieved for them. A force I would not even begin to appreciate
in some microcosmic way until I had a child of my own.
Yesterday was Veteran's Day in the US. Originally called Armistice Day in
1919, the day intended to recognize WWI vets. The holiday changed to
"All Veterans" in 1945. And this holiday is pertinent to almost 30
million veterans in the United States. I have my own opinions about
war, and its cost. But the freedom that affords me to have and vocalize
such opinions was freedom paid for by people willing to go to war. And I
have gratitude for that gift.
At 22, Corporal Foster was the youngest veteran I had ever met. Wherever you are, I hope you are finding your way.