The Would-be Soldier
It was in the mid-70’s, when I was just a kid, that playing “army” was a thing I loved doing. I had green fatigues from an army surplus store, a WWII-era ammo belt, a canteen, and even a metal helmet to take out into the woods where I’d spend hours fighting imaginary Germans. Needless to say, going squirrel hunting in the mountains with my .22 cal. Marlin rifle offered a perfect opportunity for my imagination to take me to another place and time, to play the warrior in my mind.
Later, twice in the 90’s, I attempted to enlist in the military, but I was turned down twice, both times for a eye condition (glaucoma) that I never actually had. Funny thing, both my dad and my grandfather had volunteered for service, but they were turned down, too! But at least it was in our nature… we were Tennesseans, after all (aka “Volunteers”).
So, I’ve always had a part of me that wanted to be a soldier, a warrior, a hero, a patriot. Unfortunately/fortunately – it’s hard to tell – I never qualified to wear the uniform for real. That is why I have the utmost respect for our servicemen and servicewomen who voluntarily stand in the gap to defend our freedom, especially those who faced actual combat. not squirrels.
That brings me to the real reason for writing this, today: the memory of something I found as a kid while “dumpster diving.”
Back when I was younger, one of the things my dad and I did as a “hobby” was something called “dumpster diving.” All that means is that we would often scavenge through dumpsters full of trash, even walk through junk yards, to see what people would throw away. Believe it or not, people through away perfectly good stuff!
One day, for instance, my dad looked inside a dumpster not far from where he worked and found a bag of golf clubs. Yes, a whole bag of golf clubs. Only one of them was broken, which led us to conclude that whoever used them last gave up the sport after one last slice into the woods. Nevertheless, since we had never owned any clubs before, this gave my dad and me an opportunity to practically (although not intentionally) reenact the Three Stooges’ on a short course of nine holes.
But on another day, while waiting for my dad to get off work, after my mom had dropped me off at his shop, I went dumpster diving on my own. That day I found what I thought at the time to be totally cool – medals and pictures, including a Purple Heart in its box, all from the Vietnam War. These items fascinated me so much that I took them home and kept them for years. It wasn’t until later in life that I even considered the reason these items were in the trash.
Fast forward to today. This morning I sat once again with veterans from conflicts ranging from World War 2 to Operation Enduring Freedom. Every Wednesday that meet as a part of Operation Song, an outreach/therapy/ministry meant to help veterans cope by telling their stories through song. Click HERE to learn more.
Once again, listening to the stories of what our veterans have gone through, and not just those who saw combat, I was reminded how valuable they are, each one of them. Their sacrifice, manifested in so many ways, is worth remembering and honoring. And today that got me to thinking back to that purple heart I found in the dumpster nearly 40 years ago.
Who threw it away? Was it the soldier? A family member? Someone just cleaning out the trash from an abandoned apartment? Either way, no matter the reason, somebody, maybe even the veteran himself, failed to see the value in what they were tossing out. What it represented to them was nothing more than the left-overs from a TV dinner.
Rescue the Valor
A lot of soldiers, sailors, and marines feel that way about themselves. They feel like no one cares, like all they did and all they sacrificed is now worthless. But they are so wrong.
The last thing any service member or service member’s family needs to feel is that their sacrifice, whether in time or blood or both (including the tangible relics of their sacrifice) are worthless.
It’s past time that we start looking through the “dumpsters” for those discarded treasures. We need to reclaim them, along with their memories, and put them back in the places of honor they deserve.
We need to be about rescuing the valor that some have discarded. It NEVER loses value.
If you’re a veteran, you have a song.