Like many veterans, I belong to the American Legion post in my hometown. Most American Legion posts are similar. We have fish fries on Friday nights, Bingo on Wednesdays, barbecues in the summer, country music on the jukebox, and there's a faint odor of stale beer, cigarettes and popcorn in the hospitality room.
When Legionnaires remove their trinket-covered American Legion caps, there's a lot of gray hair to be seen - if there's any hair to be seen at all. America's wartime veterans are aging rapidly. We are playing taps far too much these days for our comrades from World War II. Like our World War II veterans, Korean War vets are decreasing in numbers. Now the Vietnam era vets are beginning to retire - we know we're next for taps.
Give most vets half a chance, and they will share their military experiences with other vets. Give some vets half a chance and they will share their military experiences with everyone.
But there are a few vets who don't share their military experiences with anyone.
Some of them sit quietly in a corner or at the end of the bar, not really talking to anyone. Others might mingle and socialize - until the subject turns to war memories. Then they quietly withdraw.
One of my dearest friends served in Vietnam. I served during the war, but he served in the war - there's a big difference. I have a lot of good memories about my military experiences, memories I like to remember. He has a lot of memories about his military experiences he would like to forget. As close as we are, he has never shared them with me.
Everyone who fought for their country in every war was wounded in some way or another - physically, spiritually or emotionally. Some wounds are much more serious than others, and they don't always come from bullets.
I have seen the scars from the entry wounds on my friend's abdomen and the scars from the exit wounds on his back. As painful as these wounds must have been, the most painful wounds he suffered in Vietnam left scars on his soul.
Assistant Director of
Public Affairs for
the Missouri Farm Bureau
Jefferson City, Missouri