It’s been a long time since I’ve had so much to say that I’ve posted 4 days in a row, but this week my heart is so full of wonders and worries, questions and thankfulness, nostalgia and heartbreak, and I just can’t seem to stay focused on anything.
One minute I’m thinking about the election and what it means and the next minute I’m praying over my little sister who is dead-locked in a battle with the Big C and then I find myself sorting out unresolved feelings from the unexpected death of my step-father which prompted me to think of the other veterans in my family and what I’ve come up with is this: we all have scars.
I’m not sure why, as a nation, we can pull together in fine glory during tragedies like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina and then we so quickly forget and revert to a nation divided. All these people we are judging are just like you and me. They have pasts and mistakes and regrets and some of them drop more F-bombs than they should, but then again, God colored this Earth with a crazy mixture of individuals. How boring would the zoo be if all they had were platypuses? What if Noah’s Ark only had lions? It takes every kind to make the world go ’round. Still, instead of trying to learn from each other, instead of trying to figure out where the middle ground truly lies, we’re hurling insults. We’re deepening the divide. We’re ignoring the scars.
Today is Veteran’s Day. Today is about honoring those men and women who served for our freedom. Today is about their scars, and how we help to heal them. PTSD has been around for as long as wars have raged; we just didn’t have a name for it, but the Veterans of wars long ago, they carried those scars with nowhere to lay their pain.
I’m sure my grandfather had some. He was a Lt. Colonel is the US Army. He was a fine officer who retired from the military and made our family proud. He never showed his scars, at least not to me, but I’ve always wondered how some people recover from things and others don’t.
I was probably 19 years old before my father ever mentioned his parents to me. I grew up knowing he was orphaned when he was younger and that it had been tough on him. I never asked many questions even though I was insanely curious about this beautiful woman I saw hanging on the wall. I would stare at her, and think about what a spectacular grandmother she would probably be, and I would just wonder… who was she?
One day I got home from work late, my father was eating a bowl of cereal and as he said goodnight to me, he looked at me lovingly and sighed. He said “I wish my mother could have seen you, just once.” My heart melted.
My father probably joined the Army to somehow follow in his parents footsteps. They both served. They both came home from the war, but from what I gather, they definitely had scars. I know this: they met in Africa during WWII. My grandmother graduated from nursing school and the army took the entire class. Before returning to Bridgeport, Texas, she won 2 bronze stars. Upon her arrival home, they met her at the train station with the town band, gave her the keys to the city and $100. She came back with my grandfather, I assume, and they had 4 wonderful children, who were left behind to navigate muddy waters after they both departed from the world way too soon. I was left with a few photos I’ve seen on Facebook and the names my mother carefully inscribed into my baby book and some tidbits of information I’ve gathered here and there.
I don’t think I’ve even seen pictures of my dad in the military, but then Vietnam was the worst of the wars if you ask me. I know he jumped out of some planes, I remember thinking that was cool. We sent these young boys over seas, and we weren’t home spreading propaganda about how we were in this together. We weren’t home collecting metal or recycling every day goods. There were no Time Magazine covers embracing war efforts. No, America was divided. Soldiers came home to people spitting on them, screaming profanities, throwing things at them. Almost every veteran I have ever met from that dark moment in history carries deep open wounds. At least we learned something from that. At least we learned that agree or disagree, our troops need our support. At least we learned to salute these special people who are willing to pay the ultimate price for our freedoms.
Well, most of us have learned that. In the last year of my step-father’s life there was an incident in Austin that left our entire family reeling with anger. He proudly displayed his Purple Heart license plates on his car, as he well-deserved to. Some 40 years after his service, a crazy woman drove up beside him and shouted “you baby killer” and all sorts of other vile things to him.
It shook him to his core. It brought his wounds back to the surface. It infuriated my mother, my sisters, and me. We wanted to track this woman down, spew hatred in her face- but then what hypocrites would we be?
I have a 17 year old son. I cannot imagine sending him into the jungle. I cannot imagine asking him to decide in a split second whether or not to kill a child who was about to kill him. Oh my God, my fathers suffered these moments, the dark chilling stories that no one wants to share around the campfire. Why didn’t they come home to hugs and cheers and a soft place to fall? Shame on us, shame on us all, but if we learned something from that horrendous war, all is not lost.
Today, my prayers of thanks go to my maternal grandfather, Lt. Colonel K.W. Pyle, aka Softy, and my step-grandpa, Papa Dairy Queen as we called him- Major U.G. Smith; my paternal grandparents, Captain William “Bert” and 1st Lt. Frances LaRue Rutherford, my step-father, Marine Corps Drill Instructor, Sargent Carroll L. Quinn III- all of whom are now deceased and have finally laid their scars to rest, and my father, Richard Wayne Rutherford, E3, who never speaks much of his days in the army, but who served his country never-the-less, and went on to be a fire fighter and paramedic for more than 30 years. This is what honor and service looks like. These are the reasons we need to unite. It doesn’t matter who the President is, it matters that we had the power to choose one, and in four years we can do it again. These men and women have passed on a legacy of integrity and pride that makes me proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free!