Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Gentleman and A Warrior - A Veteran's Day Tribute

Three years ago, I had a relatively brief but incredibly inspiring conversation with a stranger who instantly became my hero.I was at the San Diego, CA Airport waiting for a flight when the only seat available in the overly-crowded waiting area was next to a young, tall, impeccably suited Marine. I slowly walked over looking to see if perhaps a buddy or two was with him before asking the Private if the chair was taken.  He politely answered, "No, mam, it is  not. Please sit down."

After arranging my coat, computer case, and purse, I eased back into the black and metal seat. I glanced over at the young man next to me.  He was leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and his long fingers were carefully nestling his hat. He was staring down at the floor for long periods of time, and then he glanced upward when a flight attendant's voice rang over the intercom. Risking that I might be interrupting his thoughts but wanting to say something to this brave soldier, I spoke first.

I introduced myself as he did in return.  I then asked the Private where he was going. Over the next several minutes, the handsome young man named Brandon explained to me that he had just completed Basic Training in San Diego, CA, and was returning home for a short break with family. Brandon described his time in Basic Training as rigorous and challenging, but that he was 'up to the task'. The soft-spoken soldier went on to admit how much he had missed his family -  more so than he had anticipated. Picking up the importance of this and being a mom myself, I continued to ask about his family. As Brandon painted pictures of his mom, dad, brother and sisters, his face lit up. He smiled as he named them and shared a bit of history of each. When the Private told of father's pride about his joining the Marines, his blue eyes brightened and danced with esteem.  As I listened, I smiled back but my eyes were straining to hold back the tears.

Brandon and I continued to talk for about ten more minutes.  As I asked him about the weeks ahead, the Private described how he would return to Southern California in about a week to continue his training at Camp Pendleton's School of Infantry. Brandon's excitement spilled over as he talked about how the intensive preparation would ready him for his first deployment and his opportunity to defend his country. As I continued to listen to his every word, I studied his face. His skin revealed his youth - no more than 19 - and his voice, although deep, had a bit of  boyish tone in it. The crafted wisdom of his words far exceeded his years on earth and his innocence spilled out with familial nuances.  I suddenly felt myself feeling afraid. I started visualizing this precious young man in harm's way. I started to feel anxious. As a mom, I wanted to say, 'Stop...Brandon, don't go. You might get hurt, or even worse...' My  mind grabbed hold of stories and images of returning veterans.  I wanted to shout through the noisy crowd, 'Don't let this boy go!  He won't come back the same...if he comes back at all!'

Suddenly, a voice came blaring through the waiting area announcing the boarding of Brandon's flight. He quickly apologized for abruptly ending our conversation and stated gathering up his belongings. As he straightened his coat, I stood so that I could look him in the eyes.  I cleared my throat and struggled to maintain my composure.  I was failing miserably.

Holding out my hand, Brandon took it in his.

"Thank you, Private", I said. "Thank you for what you are doing -  for serving our country."  My voice was shaking and my eyes were watering. "I will keep you in my prayers. I won't forget you. Thank you..."

The strong soldier towering above me replied firmly yet compassionately.

"Thank you, mam.  And thank you for listening to me and for your prayers.  But, please, mam, don't worry.  This is my job. It is what I want to do."
  
Reaching over and pulling a crisp clean handkerchief from his coat pocket, Brandon laid it gently in my  hand so I could dry my eyes. And as he turned to walk away, he spoke one last time,

"And please mam, if you will... remember me as a gentleman... and as a warrior." 

I have not forgotten.


A tribute to our all our soldiers... Let none of us forget our soldiers, not just over Veteran's Day, but every day.  Let's remember the soldiers still serving and those who have returned home by supporting  them in any way that we can.  Let's not forget that many of our veterans are suffering from psychological scars such as PTSD, anxiety and depression.  Countless others' lives have been re-landscaped by traumatic physical injuries. Many are homeless and jobless and suffer from chronic disorders.  Most are struggling not only to redefine themselves but they are trying desperately to find how to fit back into the lives they left.

Although there are a myriad of ways to support our troops, one organization that I have found to be extraordinary is the Bob Woodruff Foundation. BWF provides resources and support to service members, veterans and their families to successfully reintegrate into their communities so they may thrive physically, psychologically, socially and economically.  For more information,  please contact remind.org

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