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Veterans’ tales range from happy to the horrific

November 6, 2011
Messenger News

Oh, people, you're in for a treat.

On Friday - Veterans Day - The Messenger will publish its annual Serving Our Country magazine, and it is full of memories of war, from the happy stuff - and there is some - to the horrific, from World War II through Afghanistan.

Stories from these veterans will make you wish you knew them - should make you think you do.

So many times veterans can't talk about their experiences, won't talk about them. I found that out when I wrote about the Honor Flight veterans and later talked to family members who said they'd never heard those stories before.

In so many cases now, especially with World War II veterans, those stories will never be told, lost either to death or a rambling mind. As the age of war veterans lowers, the memories are there but often still too vivid to discuss. That's too bad.

Sometimes, though, veterans don't tell their stories simply because they've never been asked. That's really too bad.

Believe me, I know how hard it is to look at someone you love and ask them to step back to a time that's still alive in their dreams, to talk about something they'd wish never to remember. My uncle, Don, was like that. A Purple Heart veteran from Iwo Jima, he was the only man in his platoon left alive after a day-long firefight. For years, he couldn't make himself think about it.

As he got older, though, he wanted desperately to talk about it. He just couldn't do so without sobbing. Great racking sobs. And before we had that cup of coffee and the talk we both wanted, he died.

Oh, I know the gist of the story. I know he spent just three days in the actual war and was wounded twice before being sent back to the Great Lakes Naval Hospital near Chicago for months of recovery. And I know he stood three feet from immortality - he stood next to the last man depicted in the Iwo Jima Memorial.

His first injury, by the way, wasn't severe. He got shot in the butt.

Why does that make me want to giggle? But it made him laugh, too - one of the few things about his Marine Corps war service he could talk about without crying - and he said he learned to keep his butt down. That's a good lesson for life, I guess.

Anyway, what I'm saying, or trying to say, is if you know a veteran, talk to him or her. Ask the simple questions first, like when they went to service and where they trained. That's important information, and it will allow the veteran to open up. If they can talk, they will. If talking makes them uncomfortable, they won't, but you'll have asked.

Just knowing you care enough to ask will make them happy, and knowing you care might make it easier for them to talk.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Sandy Mickelson is the former Lifestyle editor. She is retired.



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