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writing for godot

A Veteran's Last Cap

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Written by Military Family Voices   
Monday, 12 November 2018 09:05

11-11-18

A Veteran’s Last Cap

He was an unusual one; one wife, six children, five dogs, six cats, a Guinea pig, and Three Wars.

His cap was long worn; so, we got him a new one, which sat on his dresser, never to be used, because he was always "waiting for the right day".

That day never came.

He was proud of his service but not of lying about his age to get in.

He viscerally hated war but loved his Country.

He used to say, "I fought for Freedom but not for the freedom to hurt other people."

He believed that hate had no part in patriotism.

He suffered no fools who sought to divide our Nation.

He used to stare at the photos of our lost Soldiers today. He believed that the public numbing to cutting any living thing's life short was the worst horror of any time.

His crust was thick from watching Freedom, as he understood it, misunderstood and taken for granted.

He got simpler with time. To him, it was clear, "Greed destroys good people, and the cure, empathy, is being lost in time."

In his early life, he was pissed off most of the time. In the later years, he pissed others off most of the time. "A good trade", he would say.

As time diminished him, and after his last, devastating stroke, he would cling to his old, tired Veteran's cap and stare out the window. Once a kinetic, vibrant man, of many words, he was now one of a few.

In his last year, he did say that he could still clearly see the Country he fought for. He was still fighting in the end.

He laughed at the notion that Freedom gave us the right, freedom, to ignore, distract from, or diminish the cost of that Freedom. To him, that was a cop-out, wrong way, to understand the ideal. To his convictions, the underlying stack of lives in the world was just too high to shirk from one's responsibility, to defend Freedom, by hiding behind the progress of those who came before.

He said that he felt odd, when someone would say, "Thank you for your service." For him, such a statement was a well meaning, but arm's length, way to feel like they had done something for their own Freedom. In later years, to kindly avoid such encounters, he stopped wearing his old Veteran's cap in public.

He only opened up in the last years, and I once asked him; out of all his amazing Military experiences, what he remembered as the most vivid lesson. He just said, "Trying to remember destruction's unforgiving grasp on survival." He continued; "Learning ways to remember -in a humane way to yourself, the fears and horrors that you naturally try to detach from yourself. That's what's important. Tragically, it's not too hard, if you were not there but almost impossible, if you were. Those who serve are on that front line for life."

His most poignant example of that hard remembering skill, for our Societies' important memory of "cost" and effect, was actually something that a good Veteran friend of his had told him about being a gunner on a battleship, bombarding an enemy coast -"softening it up", for an invasion. "I asked him what stuck with him all those years. He said that it was his pants. His pants! He said that the sustained huge concussion of the guns going off, rocked the ship back and made his legs incredibly sore and badly bruised, as the guns' concussive forces continually, and violently, hit his pant legs. He said that those forces kept him distracted from the sheer terror and horror of what those shells were doing to people on the other side. The pants ordeal was his way of remembering what his distant actions did. He never forgot it. I never forgot it."

Yes, we got him a new Veteran's cap, but now I am better understanding why "new and clean" to him meant forgetting the smells, sounds, and textures of reaching back to the worst of it all. He, at once, soaked in and loathed the cleansing distance of time. Yet, he never forgot the deadly, suffering cost of Freedom.

"New" to him certainly meant the recognition of proud, honorable service. However and ironically to him, this "cleaned" recognition came at the grave risk of eroding our true understandings and teachings of the hard actions of, and wrenching costs to, the Countless Millions, who forever hold up our Freedoms -there from the crushing silence below.

-William D. Kuenning


 

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