There was a sign in front of the VFW building where I grew up. It said simply, “Lest We Forget.” It’s easy to forget. We get caught up in our own lives, our own worries and routines and anticipations. We forget those who sacrificed and died so that we could live freely. We forget that there are men and women right now who have put their lives on the line to protect us from enemies, foreign and domestic.
One man who never forgets is Bob Kausen. And Bob does his best to make sure I don’t forget, either. He loaned me a book by Oliver North, American Heroes on the Homefront, the Heart of Heroes. It tells stories that are impossible to read without crying. Every story ends with either lost limbs or a lost life. The courage of these young men and women and those who love them and care for them is truly inspiring.
Ollie North closes the book with a story about his return to Vietnam. He was one of the lucky ones, who returned from that war wounded but otherwise whole. When he went back to Vietnam in 2006, he met a man who lost a leg in that war. The man he met was an officer in the North Vietnamese Army. He was the enemy. But he was the enemy no longer. They were now friends. They were looking at a map together, and it became apparent that Ollie North’s new friend was having a hard time seeing. So he gave him his reading glasses, the kind you can buy for $15 in one of our pharmacies. For the first time in a long time, this man could see.
In 1969 we tried to kill each other. We both lost comrades we revered and we left the battlefield wounded. He had a single crutch, but no prosthetic limb. Age and privation made him nearly blind, but he had no glasses to help him see. Six years after he was disabled, his nation’s army vanquished the nation we went to defend. Yet this former enemy soldier bore no animus or arrogance. As we parted he said, “I am a Christian now. Thank you.”
Wars one day will end and that scene of reconciliation will be played out on a grand scale. But until that day, don’t forget. Remember and thank our brave veterans this Memorial Day and every day.