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Remember Me

Excerpt from the book


 I had just presided over a funeral, and on my way home, I stopped to get gas, and across from me in the gas station was a car. I noticed a purple heart state tag on it, and the person pumping gas also had on an army vet hat. Whenever I see a person wearing this sort of thing, I like to stop and thank them for their service. It doesn’t matter what war or what branch of the service. I want to thank them for their actions while I was home safe. My only thoughts were about the next thing I was going to do, or a place I was going.


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 As I walked up to him, he saw me in the corner of his eye. I reached out my hand, and he, without hesitation, did the same at once. At that moment when hands were reaching out to one another, there was no more incredible honor, nor should there be, than two men, strangers, locking hands and presenting a greeting. As I grabbed his hand to shake it, there was so much in the grip that he returned—strong, a handshake that had been practiced for, I'm sure, most of his life. Probably ten years or more his junior, I had learned from my father that is how men need to greet each other. I remember asking my father once why his father, my grandfather, would always track me down several times a day when we visited him and my grandmother during my father's military leave. He would reach out and want to shake my hand. Granddaddy was hard to love because often, he would scare me with some of his actions that weren’t meant to scare me; he was just raised differently. 

                My grandfather insisted I acquire a firm handshake. Little did I know that this man with hands like a basketball player and the temperament of a madman would mold this 10-year-old into someone to whom a handshake would mean so much. So, as this veteran's hands and mine grasped each other in a handshake, it was as if we were trying to outdo each other; my fear of this man turned into a great respect, and the correct sense of love came with that respect. We are to love our men differently than we love our women. 

                I introduced myself by name first and then waited to hear his name, Paul. Thank you for your service. After I spoke, it was like opening the floodgates of fifty-plus years of memories. “Did you serve”? he asked me.” I did not, but I wanted to honor your time in harm's way. Paul, like I said, was quick to speak. He was like an energizer bunny. “Do you know how many soldiers we lost in Vietnam? I might have caught him off guard when I said about 56,000. He quickly asked the second question: what about Afghanistan? Which I couldn’t answer. About 9,000, he told me. And how many Vietnam vets have committed suicide? I did not know the answer to that either—over 100,000. 

                Understand we are standing in a gas station in the middle of a hectic day. This is a tourist town, and at this time of year, it is full of travelers. He asked me his next question if I had a minute. Funny, can or do you tell someone with such passion you meet in passing you don’t have time for him? I think not. When you meet someone with such force, at least for me, I want a small part of it. It's like having everyone's favorite candy; everyone wants a piece. For me, I want a whole candy bar. Can I tell you a story? He gave me no chance to respond yes or no. 

                It was 1968, and my older brother had just returned after serving in the Army. Not all shot up, but never the same. His wife, until the day he died, told me he never stopped having dreams of those times in “county,” as we would call it. My older brother came home while I was still over there. So, when I got home and walked through Mom and Dad’s door, after some hugs and backslapping, we were off. It is funny, but I don’t recall either saying let's get a beer. It was like the next step after coming home—a beer with my older brother.

This story was coming at me at warp speed. It was like when Captain Kirk asked Scotty for more power, and even though he said, ‘Captain, I can't do it,’ he did. In retrospect, I wondered if Paul ever took a breath all the time he was talking. On reflection, I realized Paul needed to download. And what I mean is download among “friendly fire.” He noted from our handshake that I was on his side. 

                So, it took half an hour to get to where my brother wanted to get a beer. He had never been there before—the local VFW. But two soldiers who had served this country with their lives earned the right to sit at the bar and be proud of their actions.                                                                                                                                  As we entered the place, I was behind my brother, and all at once, he yelled. Not a yell have I ever heard except from my fellow Army buddies. It was a sound of pure terror mixed with anger, followed by madness. John, it wasn’t just the hippies. Those who had worn the same uniform gave us no respect. My brother overheard a couple of guys comment on our service as we were coming in. Something to the fact that I wondered how many children they killed in Vietnam. It was all I could do to keep hold of my brother. I think if he had got hold of them, he would still be in prison. They were old, had long served, and it would not have been a fair fight.

                We have never entered a VFW again. But that’s for another day. He thanked me for spending time with him and wished me the best as I did him. I would tell him I was writing a book about his brothers-in-arms in their last season and their feelings for never being respected. By this time, as our meeting ran on, there were tears in his eyes, and one thing was clear: this was not a man of tears. We shook hands again and promised to stay in touch. And we have.

To enjoy the remainder of John's stories, please click below to purchase the book.

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