But, I was deeply saddened by the conversation that fell among the jokes. It started with "what kind if run around are you getting with your insurance?" And "Damn Vietnam! The docs say nothing is wrong, but the pain in my legs won't go away." And "I talk with my neighbor (a high level state official) about the crap they put us vets through, but nothing changes." They comained a bit more, cracked a few more jokes , but always came back to "blame it on Vietnam".
I stood there and pretended not to listen. More and more people congregated around the "prescription pick up" counter. It was a busy Monday! Then one of the two guys said (recalled to the best of my ability), " You know, I go to all of the welcome home events here in town for our men and women. I am pleased that they are home. People gather, cheer, cry, and treat them like celebrities, like heroes. Those in Desert Storm and Afghanistan are treated like they are royalty." They talked about the thrones that our men and women are placed on, acknowledged that they may even deserve it, were worthy of the parties of sorts that are thrown, had put their lives at risk to defend our country and that these men and women have something in them that many young people don't even desire or strive to have. (Ok, I can process and come to terms with their thoughts, but then their conversation when even deeper and I am nt sure I have even begun to process it.)
It was the next part if the conversation that brought tears to my eyes, made my knees weak and inspired me to say a little prayer. One of the men said (and I share as accurately as possible),"These people need to be honored, but they have no idea what it felt like to fight in a war that no one wanted to be in. I went to Vietnam three times and every time I came home I was greeted by a crowd. No one clapped. No one cheered. These men and women are so lucky, yet have no idea what it feels like to be greeted by people throwing things at you and telling you how awful you are. They just have no idea and I am not even sure they care."
I believe my heart stopped. I know I took a huge breath and let out a sigh. I looked to the ground and swallowed hard. I wondered if those returning home over the last 10-15 years really did or didn't care. If they did or didn't deserve to be cheered for. If they were fighting a "wanted" war or if they too were fighting a war "no one wanted". I asked myself if these men were bitter and if so did they deserve to be? Did they deserve to have the same respect as all other vets?More ? Less?
I had many thoughts,probably 100's more than I just listed, swirling in my head and then I looked up. The man that had done most of the talking had a tear in his eye. He looked right at his friend and said( and I remember and can hear it clearly), "Damn Vietnam! We did what we had to do, can't talk about or we cry and now suffer because if it. If only people knew how awful it was they wouldn't think we were so awful. We really are good people."
Then, as if the entire conversation had never happened, the clerk said thanks, wished him a good afternoon and he and his friend parted ways.
In all honesty, I thought about how to interrupt and tell them I care and that I respect them. To tell them not to give up hope for the "young men and women". I tossed around ideas of how to let them know that their stories shared while standing in line were important and need to be shared more often and that all of us in the "prescription pick up" area were leaving the store better than when we came in because of them. But, I didn't want to stop listening. I wanted to see where their story went. They had captivated my attention, drawn me in, and I didn't want them to stop. So, I stood silent, a tear in my eye, and listened, promising to share their story with others.
So, to the two Vietnam vets at CVS this afternoon, this blog post is for you. Thank you for doing what most won't, experiencing what most can't begin to understand and for supporting those today who continue to defend our great nation! I wish you the best in the years ahead! Cheers to you and the stories I hope you continue to share!