The High Cost of Heroism by Kelly Gee

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Posted by Joyce Rhyne on 18 Jun 15 - 0 Comments
Four of the many Veterans who enjoyed visiting Port O’Connor during Warrior’s Weekend.    -Photo by Kelly Gee

Four of the many Veterans who enjoyed visiting Port O’Connor during Warrior’s Weekend. -Photo by Kelly Gee

I have met many young men who have honorably served our country in one branch or another. While helping at Warriors Weekend or as an Army Mom myself, I have seen up close and personal the enormous price many pay for their service. I admire and respect them greatly. But, this is not an article about proud young heroes with their whole lives ahead of them. This is the story of heroism from a different point of view.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with four honorably discharged highly decorated American veterans in their 50’s. What an amazing group! They had more than 88 years of service to the Army and Marines among the four of them. While they would not pinpoint a number, they agreed they held more than 50 commendations, awards and medals each, and a couple held big ones like a Distinguished Service Cross and a Medal of Honor, but they were reticent to talk about those. This group of humble, funny, kind men grew up together in the farmland of Iowa, and have all returned there in retirement from the military. Three of the four work for John Deere Farm Equipment near their childhood homes and corn fields of their youth. Two of the four are still active in the reserves in what they laughingly called ‘old guy positions.’  Each of them had compelling and heart breaking stories of good and bad from their service days. They each had suffered combat injuries that required hospital care but did not end their active duty, as well as field injuries in some very scary circumstances. They had all rescued someone in combat danger, and three had been rescued from sure death themselves. They were dealing with aging issues like most 50 somethings, but theirs were a little different. One has permanent hearing loss from an explosion injury, and all had what they termed ‘to be expected’ hearing loss from their life of duty. Two have long-term ankle pain and damage from service related incidents. There were three hands with altered function at the table, three new knees, a new hip scheduled, multiple back injuries and pain issues, scars and surgeries, PTSD suffered by three but a refusal to let it get them, and other post service issues with plenty of stories, smiles and a few tears as they shared their service narratives.

Four lives, shaped by military service represented so many more lives as well. Five wives, (yes, one was lost to deployment woes and divorced her soldier but remained his friend), eleven natural children, two adopted children, six grandchildren so far, parents and siblings totaling more than 120 lives intertwine with theirs if current statistics are true. Families serve, not individuals! Families are born, shaped and challenged during those years of service. Families drug through training, transfers, combat and deployments, injuries, illness, trauma and pain. Only One of the four ever saw one of their children born, all had missed major life events such as surgery, graduation, childhood firsts, family emergencies, illness and death of parents and siblings and the loss of combat buddies and brothers more than they can or wanted  to remember.

The small group of 4 had served in operations many Americans have never heard of or knew where they occurred. In just a couple of minutes they listed Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Noble Eagle I, II and III, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Joint Guard. Add to those joint ventures, training ops, promotions, refitting and equipment ops, assignments stateside and in countries both friendly and hostile. They have moved more times than they could count, flown to more countries than they could remember and seen more foreign troops than they could recall.

The amazing part of the visit was the pride they showed in their service. Not one of them said a negative thing. They were honored to serve, humble about their awards and commendations, self effacing about the sacrifices made and sincerely happy to have made a difference in our world. The youngest of the four had a few months before he will be fully discharged from active duty service and still said if he were younger he would go back tomorrow. He counts it an honor defend the country he loves and wanted to continue to recruit, train and lead younger men to serve. They all stated they believed they would not be the men they are without their military service. They all expressed a heart of compassion and love for the many soldiers who have sustained life altering injury and deep sympathy for families whose soldiers died in service. A fellow vet invited them to our Warriors Weekend Celebration and this was their second year to attend. They said they have never, ever felt the love and appreciation they feel here. They were so appreciative that they got to be here and actually made it possible for some other veterans to attend this year as well. There were a few tears as they told of some of their experiences at community gatherings. They said they are sometimes treated with disrespect, have been spit on and have had ugly things yelled at them when in uniform. One explained healing from the work of being a soldier is a long process. Warriors Weekend in POC has been a huge positive in the process of healing and finding their place in civilian life for these four. One of them said “I have been a soldier longer than I have been anything else. I served 24+ years. It is the longest relationship of my life because I lost my parents when I was pretty young. I would like to think I did I good job in the most important role of my life.” I think he did a fantastic job myself! I was honored to share time with them. It is with their permission that I share their stories and this picture of them at POC Warriors Weekend 2015!

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