23 MILLION AND ONE SALUTES

Only 7.3% of Americans have served in the military, a fraction that sounds elite, but equates to some 23 million people.  A veteran myself,
I salute each and every one of you.  I offer up prayers on your behalf, tribute to your contributions and sacrifice, and heartfelt appreciation for your commitment to peace and freedom in our country and the wider world.  In honor of Veteran’s Day, I’d like to share two poems.  The first is the story of a forgotten young airman—one quite beloved
to me—who dearly wishes his service to be remembered.  The second
is the tale of an earnest medic who returns from war facing memories
he dearly wishes he could forget:

JUST FOR THE RECORD

On the eve of eleven-eleven,
a young Airman is served
with walking papers,
his increasingly erratic behavior
deftly swept under the rug
of crime and punishment.

Hastily discharged and
wrestling in the grip
of undiagnosed psychosis,
he’s told to fend for himself;
twenty-three months of service
does not a veteran make.

The Voices intrude.
Pervasive whispers
meddle in his life, career,
relationships, even his dreams.
He battles to stay afloat
within his skewed world.

Fast forward thirty years:
In the mailbox, an envelope,
the long-awaited culmination
of a hard-fought battle with VA
for benefits and recognition.
Inside, a 100% victory.

It’s not about money,
but restoration of honor
and stripes wrongly taken.
With tears in his eyes,
he looks in the mirror and sees,
at long last, a proud veteran.

 

A CHANGED MAN

Quiet and hard-working
A capable medic and practical joker extraordinaire
He kept the whole office laughing

One day his number came up
Orders to the Middle East, his mission clean and simple:
Patch up wounded soldiers

And ship ‘em back to the States
He never took a life, just worked tirelessly to save them
War’s pain seeping in by osmosis

Long busy days and sleepless nights
Punctuated by trips to the chow hall and makeshift gym
If you were lucky, a package from home

He returned in the best shape of his life
Thin and buff, pockets bulging with tax-free war zone pay
But his eyes told a different story

He dutifully clicked through his JPEGs of war
A show-and-tell of horrors that would haunt me long after
Fighting emotion, keeping his game face on

He told his story to many a curious medic
Until he couldn’t tell it anymore, the flashdrive buried in a dusty drawer
If only it were so easy to get rid of pictures in your head

His smile was rare, the easy laugh silent
Eyes careworn, underscored by the inky shadows of insomnia
Once you’ve seen, says he, you can never un-see

You go on, but life will never be the same.

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One thought on “23 MILLION AND ONE SALUTES

  1. Ursula Kender December 6, 2015 / 2:55 am

    You do have a way with words that tell it like it is.

    Like

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