Up until March I had never given much thought to Veterans Day. It’s not that I don’t think about the grotesque consequences that war creates. In the past though, I have thought about the consequential tragedy of war only in terms of death. However, one early spring evening I gained a whole new perspective of the damages war causes when visiting the Veteran’s Hospital.
After what I jokingly dubbed “a tussle with a bus” because it sounds way better than saying an attempted suicide on a busy street, a friend of mine was admitted to the closest Veterans hospital psychward.
At the time my friend was just 25. Most of the residents on his wing in the hospital were much older. Their seemingly vacant eyes scarred me, and the sight of so many tired bodies made me initially want to run out of the hospital. One Vietnam vet offered to buy me a coffee. I sat with him while he told me about his boyhood in Iowa, and how he first went to Korea and then on to Vietnam. Lastly he told me about how he returned to his hometown. As he put it ” the town had to get rid of me, or I was going to get rid of it.” He explained that he has PSTD and gets extremely angry.
After drinking the coffee, my friend, my cousin Cale and I went to a smokeshack to visit. The smokeshacks at the hospital are heavily used tent-like structures filled with stale second-hand smoke and packed with the bodies of vets congregating. I was given a cigarette by my friend but it and the environment were starting to make me sick so I placed it in an ashtray by my feet. An old vet with a walker shuffled over and picked the hand rolled top up. He moved to a corner of the shack with the cigarette in his mouth never glancing our way again. My friend told so many stories about the vets there. Those men all experienced such pain. One story that I remember in particular was the one in which he explained how his roommate had lost his hand because he had chopped it off as a preventive from being sent back to Vietnam.
On the ride home that night I had a lot of thinking to do. That cold March night I realized that war doesn’t just cause death. It creates death within the living too. In mass today I heard an excellent quote on freedom by Monsignor Hirsch.
“Freedom isn’t free, there is always a price”.
Thank you to all the Vets for paying a price for our freedom. As I discovered at the Veterans Hospital, sometimes the cost of freedom is very high. For that, we as a nation should be very, very grateful.