I’m not unfamiliar with the military way of life…I spent the first 18 or so years of my adult life as an Air Force wife. I settled down in the military town I got divorced in, and eventually remarried a local guy (my hubs ♥). My eldest son enlisted in the Air Force and went to basic training a few months prior to his 19th birthday.
He did really well, those first few years. He tested for Staff Sergeant and made it on his first try, and got a line number for his stripes shortly after the end of his first enlistment.
He was stationed in Japan, Korea and finally the Azores. He did some time in the desert, as well.
Several years ago I got a phone call from him. He was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC. It seems that he had been there for quite some time, but didn’t want anyone to call us; he wanted to tell me himself. My son slit his wrists while over in the Azores, and while the wounds were not all that deep, they were more concerned with what was going on in his head, and had him pretty much confined to the ward.
We were able to go to visit him while he was there, once he was allowed a little mobility and visitors, so my husband and I drove up there one morning to spend a few days with him. We were advised to catch a shuttle from the hotel to the base, because driving in DC isn’t recommended, although it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.
At any rate, we were standing in front of the hotel when a young man drove out of the parking area and asked if we were waiting for the shuttle. We told him we were, and he said he was about to hit they gym at the medical center and that he would be more than happy to get us there. We thanked him and he got out of the car to move some stuff around in the back seat so that there would be room for one of us. When he came around the back of the car we noticed that he had only one leg. Here, right in front of me, was a hero…an honest to goodness, real life hero.
We piled into the little car, which he maneuvered beautifully throught the Silver Springs traffic, and he was telling us about how he came to be there, and how his recovery had been. He told us that he was there when the guy blew himself up earlier that month at the Discovery Channel building, which was just up the street from our hotel. He said that he and some buddies were hanging around near the location in their wheelchairs having a few beers during the fiasco. Why that stands out to me the most is beyond me, but it does. An IED had gotten him over in the desert and that was how he lost his leg. He had been there (in DC) just over a year and was hoping to be able to go home soon.
I also remember his sense of humor. I pout and whine when I am injured and can’t workout or do something I need to do. This guy? He just…he just seemed to be coping beautifully. It took us about 20-25 minutes to get to the hospital where we were meeting my son.
That was a very intense few days spent in DC. I had never been there before, so of course I was shooting away at the sights and landmarks, but even then, the things that stood out to me the most, even four years later, are/were the young people that we saw both at the hospital and in our hotel. I saw a mother wheeling her son, who couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19, to the car because one side of his body was so disfigured that he was unable to do it himself. Even thinking about it now chokes me up and makes my heart hurt, because this young man (and all the young people) enlisted during a time of serious unrest (as did anyone who enlisted after 9-11) and did so WILLINGLY!
Their lives have all been irrevocably altered and their sacrifices so huge, and they all did it voluntarily.
So yes, superheroes, all of them…
As for my son? He was medically retired, moved back home, got a job, purchased a home, and then walked away from all of it, jumping in his little truck and driving 3/4 of the way across the country to go do something “new.” I am grateful to him for his service, as well. He was different when he got back home; loud noises found him on the floor, looking embarrassed when he got up. Most people understood…But where he had once been responsible? He wasn’t/isn’t, anymore.
I also have a friend who is USMC, retired – went out as a Gunnery Sergeant. She is coping with the down-side of active duty. She saw and experienced things during her career that most of us can’t even imagine in our worst nightmares. She has PTSD, and our VA, being what it is, these days, she has had to really fight for what she needed. It’s been a long road for her; it cost her a day job, and almost cost her the family she loves, and her life. I adore her for who she is, but I am also in awe at her bravery throughout the entire post-military part of her life. She is one of the strongest women I know, even though she probably doesn’t see herself as such. I won’t leave her name here, but I hope that when she reads this, she will recognize herself and know that I hold her in high regard and feel absolutely blessed to have been able to not only make her acquaintance, but to be fortunate enough to call her my friend…
Serving can change people; sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, and sometimes both.
So…thank you, any and all of you veterans reading this, for your service and sacrifice.