This portion of A Walk in Darkness will be tinted with shades of today. My first customer of the day at the flea market this morning was a veteran of the Vietnam War. We always seem to chit chat and this morning was no different. My lady friend had gone to pick up some breakfast, and we two grunts talked about something a bit darker, war. It started off innocent enough. We laughingly talked about if we had the All-Star team of Arnold, Rambo, John McClain, and Chuck Norris, we could have missed the entire war. Those four guys would have won the entire war by themselves.
While we jokingly had fun with this portion of the conversation, the Vietnam veteran said that the only accurate part of the Rambo movie was the name calling when John Rambo returned to America after serving in the war. Even then I was okay, however, there are few conversations that bring me to tears, there are even fewer that shake me to my core like veterans’ that commit suicide. I attempted suicide when I came home. Granted, I had a come to Jesus moment that turned my life around, however, I was almost one of the 22 veterans that commit suicide a day.
The old veteran asked me why I would do something like that to my family and friends. For the first time, I was honest about why I felt that I had no choice. Anger filled my heart as I let the poison out of my system.
“In Iraq, I had soldiers that followed me into hell , and we came back home.
“I had a purpose over there. Then I come home, and the politicians want to apologize for our actions.”
He nodded his head, tears clouding his eyes and mine. Choking up, I could not continue with my rant.
“Son, those politicians are gutless.”
As I look out across the empty parking lot, I see the faces of my friends that never made it back home to their families. Tears wet my eyes and it is all I can do not to sob and give in to my grief.
“Those spineless cowards have no guts, no balls and have no idea what it means to sacrifice for the greater good. However, they want to give us 2,500 dollars for a victory bonus and declare victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. What am I supposed to do with this blood money? 2,500 dollars won’t bring my friends back, and it dang sure doesn’t purchase comfort for the broken families scattered on both sides of the war. It won’t buy our sleep that we do without because of the horrors that we have seen nor will it purchase our mental health.”
We stand quietly in the doorway of the shop, tears wetting our cheeks. He clamps his hand on my shoulder and nods his head. The plastic American flags flutter in the brisk March wind, as if kissed by the dying breath of our lost friends.
“God bless you son.”
“It’s a slap in our face to offer money, when our friends died for what they believed in. They didn’t believe in these idiot politicians. They believed in America, her people and the belief that there is no better country to raise your family in.”
I can’t even look him in the eyes. Offering my hand, he takes it and offers a firm handshake.
“God bless you too brother.”