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Honoring our veterans: Let's ceasefire for one day

US Department of Veterans Affairs
US Department of Veterans Affairs |

Hopefully this week will bring a pause in the political skirmishes if only to honor those who have dedicated time in service to our nation — our veterans. At one time the original November 11th day of honor was moved to the fourth Monday in October, so federal employees could celebrate all national holidays on Mondays. But President Gerald Ford helped change that and by 1978, it was returned to November 11 — for a specific reason. It recognized the significance of the temporary cessation of hostilities of World War I — on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same? Can we cease our political hostilities — even temporarily, while we honor those who have fought our battles? Perhaps we could even go further and not just thank our veterans but ask them about their stories. Most of them appreciate telling about their time in the service or their life since then — like a lonely man did on my bus.

He and I were the only passengers aboard for the long bus ride that evening.  I’d gotten on first and taken a seat further back. I noticed how scruffily dressed he was as he dug in his pockets for the bus fare. He announced to no one in particular that he was heading back to an alcohol addiction facility. He was cheerful, despite the weariness on his face and the ragged clothes he wore.

The man chose a seat near the driver and kept up a one-way conversation for much of the journey. But the man didn’t seem to mind that no one responded to his chatter. As the skies darkened on our two-hour journey, the man explained about his life back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He told of his boyhood exploits fishing and hunting — often times skipping school to do so. His grades reflected those choices — and when his draft number was called, he was sent to Vietnam.

“Some guys came back from Nam with wounds you could see. I came back with the ones you can’t see.” He pointed to his head. “I just couldn’t forget what I never wanted to think about.” He tried to find work when he came back from the war. But jobs never lasted, but his despondency did. “I drank until I’d forget, then I’d lose my job.” The man lapsed into 20 miles of silence.

As we approached the city, and his destination, he spoke again, “I’m heading back to treatment. Maybe this time I can forget what I need to forget and remember what I need to remember.” He chuckled to himself.

At the station, the bus driver rose and shook the man’s hand and said, “Thanks for serving.” The older man nodded and straightened a bit more as he stepped off the bus. I felt sorry for the lonely man with the mind demons he’d lived with for so long. While I’d been a carefree kid, he’d gone to war. I pledged to myself to take more interest in the lives of our Veterans — they deserve honor and a listening ear.

Karen Farris saw the need to help underserved kids while serving in a youth ministry that gave her the opportunity to visit rural schools on the Olympic Peninsula. She now volunteers her time grant writing to bring resources to kids in need. She also shares stories of faith in action for those needing a dose of hope on her weekly blog, Friday

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