I’ll never forget that Veteran’s Day event. I was a clueless, young teen, in the midst of an older, uber-liberal college crowd. At the front of the auditorium the lights reflected off the shiny buttons on an old man’s well-decorated military uniform. He didn’t bother with the podium. Instead he was in front of it, standing tall despite his age and the crutches clipped to his arms. His challenging gaze scanned the crowd.
What followed was his gruesome war story, filled with unimaginable details. It had cost him a leg, but that was easy compared to the scars he carried in his mind. I had read things like this before. But now someone who had suffered it was standing in front of me. I looked to see how the others were reacting. They seemed unmoved. The old man sensed it too. While his vivid recall gave me shivers, the crowd facing him didn’t seem to care. It didn’t matter that his battle wounds helped our nation.
It started in the back. One voice shouting out an anti-war curse. Emboldened, others added their voices to the chorus. I looked around and saw bitter smirks and heard obnoxious jeers. It became louder, more mean-spirited.
The old veteran turned to the side as if wishing someone, anyone, would silence the crowd. No one did. He lifted his arm, trying to say more, but he could tell no one cared. He’d been our age once—and unlike those in the auditorium, he’d volunteered to serve his country. He’d been proud to make it back home—because home was worth fighting for. He hadn’t been defeated in a POW camp; it had come on a college campus. The crowd refused to quiet.
As he walked away, he looked back once more. He shook his head in apparent disbelief at the disregard for all he’d done. I will never forget his final look at all of us. I was ashamed, even if no one else was. I quickly made my own exit. I wish I could tell you I had been honorable enough to go and apologize. I have done it hundreds of times in my heart. Since that day, I promised to never forget that veteran, or any of the soldiers who have served to protect me. Someday there will be a world without war. But until then, God only knows where any of us would be without the sacrifice of our brave military.