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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Veteran's Day 2021 III


It Wasn’t That Long Ago


It wasn’t that long ago when I was living carefree.

Playing baseball, basketball, chasing girls, catching a flick,

Swiping a few pieces of gum, collecting baseball cards, downing an ice-cold coke

On a hot summer’s day or picking up a few bucks shoveling snow.

And who could forget dragging down main as Mike’s wing man or getting all decked out

For the prom, where we knew Billy would spike the punch.


It wasn’t that long ago.

I fondly remember deep discussions with my buds on the best way

To unfasten that damn bra strap. One would have thought we were aspiring

Mechanical engineers with all the gimmicks and ideas we formulated. It was Kevin

That had the most astute idea, “Just ask them to do it for you.” Damn! No wonder

We knew he would be a brain surgeon someday. He could break down any problem

With a simple solution. And you know what, it worked!


It wasn’t that long ago.

When my country came calling. My dad served, my uncles and cousins

All put on the uniform with nary a doubt.

I remember looking at my dad’s uniform covered with ribbons and medals

My relatives too, came home with a chest full of medals.

I never understood why they never talked about it or put them on.

Dad caught me once trying his on. Instead of seeing his eyes fill

With joy and pride, tears seeped from the corners. “Lee, please take it off. “

“Why dad?’

“Son, there are somethings I hope you never have to experience.”

As he turned to walk out, his shoulders slumped. I had to ask.

“Weren’t you proud to serve? I mean, look at all the ribbons and medals.”

He slowly turned, his cheeks exposing the river of water running down them.

“Yes, Lee. I was proud to serve my country. As for the medals and ribbons, they are

A reminder of the price of freedom. And son, it is a very, very, heavy price.”

“So please, put it back.”


It wasn’t that long ago

I went through basic and learned how to fight and kill.

Back then it was a game we all strived to excel at.

I was barracked with a bunch of great guys from all over the country.

I’d never heard so many accents in my life. Those guys from the NE sounded

Like they came form Mars or Venus and those from Michigan and Wisconsin,

Hell, Websters could have a dictionary just for them.

As for myself, well, they fought with my West Texas drawl.

Think some of them are still trying to figure the word wyaare.

Made sense to me.


It wasn’t that long ago

When we flew into Vietnam.

It was the hottest, wettest, muggiest place I’d ever been to.

Within minutes our fatigues were drenched and the smell

Of jet fuel permeated our very core. It was horrible.

But hey, we were here to defeat communism and save the

South Vietnamese from the red menace.

I’ll never forget those guys rotating home. The look on their faces

Was nothing like I’d seen before. They weren’t upbeat like us.

They were combat veterans ready to get the hell out of Dodge and fast.

I remember one guy. He looked me straight in the eyes, “Junior. Keep your

Head down, socks dry and your ass even lower. Do that and you might survive.”

While his words might have been prophetic, his eyes shocked me into reality.

I saw my dad’s eyes in his.


It wasn’t that long ago.

 I spent nothing short of a year in hell.

Nothing in training could or would prepare one for the horrors

I couldn’t even imagine, in my worst nightmares.

The popping of flares, followed by the rain of mortar shells.

The screams of my buddies, as shrapnel found a home and

Shredded their young bodies, covering the ground with body parts

And spilt, life sustaining blood.

No matter how hard I tried, I could never wash out the smell of cordite

Or copper off. It stuck to one like glue.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the daylight sweeps weren’t any better.

You never knew when someone would step on a mine or punji stake.

Those dame things were everywhere and deadly as hell.

One could lose a leg in the blink of an eye or get an infection so

Horrendous, you could watch that damn thing fester in an hour

And without proper medical attention one became the unwilling host

For a fly convention.

I remember one guy was so bad, maggots had hatched and were enjoying

A fine feast on a buddy’s arm. Reminded me of rice kernels boiling in a pot, only it was his arm. To this day, I cannot eat rice.  


It wasn’t that long ago.

I had served my country and served it well or at least as

Well as the higher ups allowed us.

Unlike my dad and relatives, they had a mission. WIN!

Ours was to live to see another day and hope the next body

Bag wasn’t yours.

I know knew what that guy a year ago was talking about and the

Sage advice he passed on. It worked.

I was going home with a chest full of ribbons and medals

But never really accepted or appreciated them for

I know knew what my dad had meant when he said,

“it’s a very, very heavy price.”



It wasn’t that long ago.

I returned home. No brass bands. No cheering crowds. Only a country

That had turned against the war and those of us who fought it.

I was ready to get back to normal and hang up my uniform for good.

Dad got me a job at the feedlot.

We didn’t talk much during those years. We both kept to ourselves.

Occasionally we’d drown a worm, shoot a buck or scurry the quails.

But not much else.


It wasn’t that long ago.

I’d been home for fifteen years. Nothing much had changed.

Dad had retired and I was moving up the ranks.

I came home from work, grabbed a beer

And sat by my dad on the front porch.

It was a quiet, still, muggy night with a nice breeze.

The only sound were the crickets chirping away

And the locusts buzzing about.

Looking up, the stars were so brilliant one had

To squint.

After a few sips, I looked at dad. I could tell he was looking

Into the past. How? Small tears kept forming around the corners of his eyes.

Why? I didn’t know. Were they for mom when she died ten years ago from cancer

Or something else? I didn’t know.

He took a sip of his tea then cleared his throat.

“Lee, it’s time.”

“Time for what?”

“It’s time.”

He got up and went inside.


It wasn’t that long ago

I found myself on a plane headed to D.C.

I didn’t know why and dad wasn’t talking

He only stared into the past whispering words

Only he knew.

The plane landed and we deboarded.

He hailed a cab and gave the driver a destination after loading

What little luggage he’d packed.

He nodded solemnly and headed into the city.

The driver stopped on schedule.

Dad looked at me, “Lee, don’t ask questions, please.”

“Just do as I request so we can both heal.”

The words puzzled me, but okay.

“Sure, dad. Whatever you want.”

When he opened his carry-on, I saw his and mine old uniforms.


“Please, Lee. Don’t ask.”

Reluctantly I put my old jacket on and so did dad.

“Follow me.”


It wasn’t that long ago.

We walked towards a plaza with a big, black granite wall.

I noticed other veterans milling about not saying a word.

I felt like I was going to church, it was so damn quiet.

The closer we got, I could make out words on the wall,

But what were they?

Then slowly, I began to see the writing was names. But names of whom?

I then noticed it wasn’t a continual wall, but panels and each

Panel had a date on it. The names were of the 58,301

Men and women who fell in that awful war.

A lump built up in my chest and throat.

I had never given myself the time to grieve for those who

I lost or were badly wounded.

I wanted that memory dead and buried.

I did my best, but on this day, it all flooded back and consumed me.

The tears fell freely and fast!

My dad was their to support me as my knees began buckling.

Other veterans noticed my dilemma and came to help,

Without a word being spoken.

What I didn’t notice is they were also helping my dad keep his balance.

For he too was weeping for his fallen comrades and friends.

And believe it or not, those brave men that came to our rescue,

As they had in the battle fields we shared, wept with us.

I don’t know how long we cried together. It didn’t matter.

We were sharing something no one would understand unless they were there.

It took time for us to let the tears stop falling and wiped away.

When I looked into my dad’s eyes, I saw something I’d never seen before,

Joy and happiness. The pain was finally washing itself away.

I took a quick look at the wall, then back to dad,

“It wasn’t that long ago, dad.”

“You’re right, Lee. It wasn’t that long ago”

We turned, stood as straight as we could and saluted our fallen brethren,

Then those around us and each other.

We placed an arm on a shoulder and slowly walked away from our past.

“It wasn’t that long ago.”



LDDJ Enterprises Publishing

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