Listen and Honor

Today, I remember those American Warriors I have never met…the Heroes I have been honored to hear such vivid and meaningful stories about from their brothers and sisters who walked beside them in uniform.

The veterans who bravely share these memories have mourned the loss of those with whom they confronted their most vulnerable situations of life, including the reality of death.

I don’t understand why I have been entrusted with such sacred stories – but perhaps it is simply because I observe them as sacred. I sit as still and silent as I would under the watch of the Sisters of Nazareth during my Catholic school days. I listen to the irony of favor and tragedy within these memoirs, feeling deep within myself a miniscule of the emotion being expressed.

I remember the long dinner I spent with a WWII Veteran. I hung on every word he spoke, trying to envision if any of his war experiences could have been similar to my grandfather’s service in WWII. My eyes were glued to his as he reminisced of the hell of that war and then, I could feel my heart swell with joy as he told of his return to America. The quick surge of my own emotions through our conversation was a mere glimpse of what must have been an exhausting emotional battle on a daily basis for WWII Veterans. With the loss of 405,399 U.S. Heroes during WWII, the pain and grief was too close for too many.

The months I spent with a Vietnam Veteran chatting about golf, gardening, and grandchildren were as golden to me as any other hour in my Listening Room. We were building a relationship that would prepare both of us for the day he was able to find words to reveal his nightmare called Vietnam. My heart beat quickly as the Vietnam Veteran told me of being surrounded by the VC in the 1967 Battle Suoi Tre. He revealed how they fired beehive rounds to keep the VC at bay, but eventually his company ran out of ammunition and he fought with a confiscated VC machete in one hand and the spear of his AR-15 in the other.   He lost 12 men that day and didn’t speak of it for 48 years. Instead, the tears would randomly leak for decades. But even the silence didn’t stop the avalanche of survivor’s guilt from gaining power and speeding up as the years passed. I don’t know the 58,220 Heroes killed in Vietnam, but I have born witness to some of those who called them comrades.

I have humbly sat in the presence of countless men and women who have served and continue to serve in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. I thank them for their decision – their choice – to serve and protect my life of freedoms. I have listened to their deployment stories with splashes of their clever and distracting humor…I have seen their physical wounds leave them decades older than they are…I have gathered the fragments of their relationships and helped them find beauty in this new artisan mosaic of connection…and I have found myself sitting with them in the anguish and torment of their soul wounds. I often have no words that would bring comfort, only quiet space to share the weight of the grief – even if that space is 7,500 miles wide and through the technology of a cell phone or email. For the last 7 years, I have gotten a lump in my throat every time there has been a casualty in Iraq or Afghanistan. Most of the Soldiers I first worked with have scattered across the globe – many still serving. I may not have shared sacred conversations with any of 6,883 Heroes who gave their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I have witnessed the love and respect they earned from their comrades.

From WWII to our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have lost 507,459 Service Members. The average American knows approximately 25 people well enough to trust them, but has a social network of 500 people (according to Columbia University researchers in 2013). The loss of these half million Heroes has directly impacted a minimum of 12,686,475 to 253,729,500 people. These numbers don’t include the generational impact of these lives sacrificed for the freedoms of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren…

Our lives have been shaped and transformed by these American Heroes. They entrusted their lives to us. Let us honor them and remember them.

God Bless America and those who serve and protect this great nation!

Believe. Create. Live.

© Rebecca G. Townsend, LLC

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