RallyPoint is an online forum for the military. Its members are scattered all over America. More than a few it seems are scattered over other parts of the world. I've made friends with a few of them. Some are even contacts. But I had never met one in person before yesterday. I had posted a notice about the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War at Fort Irwin, California, and Ken Ellis contacted me to find out if we could go together. We could and did.
We rallied at the Main Place Mall in Santa Ana, California, about midway between our homes. A car club of Shelby Cobras happened to be meeting there and provided a welcome diversion before setting off. Another Vietnam Veteran, John Gleason, a member of my VFW post, met there too and we took off for Fort Irwin about midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Actually, this Army post, affectionately known as the nation's cul-de-sac, lies 30 miles off Highway 15 in the middle of the desert.
He scooted around the exhibits pretty well in his wheelchair but became stuck when he tried to cross the gravel that separated the event from his tent. The tiny front wheels dug in every time he tried. That's when I stepped up and he asked, “Would you give a disabled American veteran a hand?”
Hell yeah I would.
I'm tired of waiting for the government to help. Aren't you?
It was a struggle. He was a heavy guy and I coaxed him to lean back so I could raise the front wheels off the ground. Even then it was tough slogging through the gravel.
Wouldn't you know that when we got there all he wanted was to drop off some things he had been given and return to the exhibits, so I tipped him back and pulled him back to the sidewalk.
Almost 300,000 veterans witnessed atmospheric tests of nuclear devices: Atomic Bombs and Hydrogen Bombs. They are known as Atomic Veterans. Most, if not a majority, are dead as you read this. Many died young of cancers and tuberculosis induced by their exposure to the deadly radiation emitted by these detonations. Those fortunate enough to survive such early onsets of fatal diseases are now dying of old age. Sadly, the United States has never officially acknowledged their participation as what many would characterize as guinea pigs. There is not even a ribbon to wear on their chests among the other campaign medals they may have earned.
The service members who distinguished themselves with great valor on a train in France should be awarded the Soldier's Medal. It is the only decoration available for valor performed outside a combat situation. However, a veteran receives no such military honor.
Of course politicians will jump at the chance at being photographed with a hero and I expect that Chris Mintz will receive their attention for rushing unarmed against the shooter in Oregon. Sadly, Mintz will be mere window dressing for the politicians' aggrandizement.
It would be nice to be remembered for writing a beloved Christmas story. Such tales have kept alive the memory of many authors who might have been otherwise forgotten.
Ghosts of Christmas Past is one of two sketches that I've written that could be expanded into full length short stories. Please let me know what you think of it.
Most are resentful of my affected cheerfulness. They greet me with suspicion and some never surrender it. They are almost all depressed, their chronic diseases and injuries afflicting the soul as well as the body, serving as constant reminders of battlefields best forgotten. However, they will never forget which is why we must never forget them. They are patients at the nation's Veterans Administration Hospitals.
I used to visit them at Tripler Army Medical Center when I was stationed there as the Special Services officer after my tour of duty in Vietnam. Their wounds were fresher then and hadn't yet eaten away at their psyches. Most were still cheerful in a morbid way, still marveling at being alive, their wounds perceived as a winning lottery ticket. The prize, a discharge from the horrors of combat. It was to be a short assignment. Unfortunately, I carried my own wounds. A dose of malaria, a nagging sense of survivor's guilt, and a bad attitude that my colonel couldn't see past. I still carry vestiges of all three. Thus my tour of duty at Tripler was brief, and I was sent on to trouble another, happily a commanding officer who was more tolerant and found a way to channel my energies more productively.
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