An older man was collecting donations for the VFW outside the Kroger on Saturday. He had a friendly face, so I walked over.
We chatted for a minute. Fumbling through my purse for a couple of bucks, I told him, “We have a good friend who served in Vietnam.”
“Here,” the man said as he pulled forth a colorful beaded key chain from his pocket. “Give this to your friend and say, ‘Welcome back.'”
I smiled and looked at him closely. Then, acknowledging my confusion, he said this: “Vietnam Vets didn’t get a warm welcome when they came home from the war. It’s been my life’s goal to make sure every Vet gets a welcome home, even if its a little late.”
This warmed my heart all the way through.
“You bet!” I said and, “Thank you.” I placed my two bucks in the pot, dropped the key chain in my purse and went into the store.
Two days later…
We attended the local Veteran’s Day Parade with our Vet friend, Bill. It is a family tradition to accompany him every year on November 11th at 11 am. He loves this event, although it stirs a lot of memories for him. He was an MP in Vietnam. He paid the price there, affected by the chemicals they used to push back the Americans, experiencing the trauma of watching men die and then the rejection from folks back home. At the parade, there are Vets from every war since WWII. We accompany Bill as he observes and remembers. Rangers, Sergeants, jeeps, bands, ROTC groups and politicians all file past us in this modern day setting.
My absolute favorite thing about this event is seeing Bill salute his fellow soldiers and leaders. Old men are brought to tears out here on the streets of Marietta, remembering and honoring the ones who’ve fallen. They are reminded that they were the chosen ones who survived those hellish days. Some are still struggling.
The only thing we can do here is watch and smile and say “Thank you.” We did this and it was both memorable and touching.
Afterwards, walking to our cars, I said, “Bill, I have something for you from the VFW man collecting money at the Kroger.”
His face lit up, “What is that?” he asked.
I dug in my purse again and pulled out the colorful chain.
“Welcome back,” I said.
“Oh. These are the colors of the Vietnam Veterans. Thank you.
He paused. “What should I do with it?” he asked.
“Its a key chain. Clip it to your keys.”
He fooled with it for a few seconds and smiled curiously as he slipped it into his jacket pocket.
“Sounds good,” he said.
It did sound good. To say “thank you” to so many former soldiers who sacrificed the best years of their lives for our country. It also sounded good to say “Welcome Home,” even if a little late.