War scars of the heart never heal -- they bleed tears forever. I'm a Vietnam era veteran that never had to fight in the jungles and rice patties or look war directly in the eye. Still, I was very wounded by my experiences. I joined the Air Force in 1964 with a sense of duty that every American should have but, many today don't seem to. Stateside, I volunteered for the honor guard because of my deep reverence for those who served. Some funerals were for old veterans but many were for soldiers that died for their country in Vietnam. The most moving moment at a military funeral is when the precisely folded flag is presented to a grieving family member. Fortunately I was in the firing squad, standing off to the side, because at that touching moment tears always came to my eyes. "Men don't cry" goes double for soldiers. Back then, this was almost the only thing that made me cry.
People that join the service give up a lot for their country -- family, friends, familiar places and in my case a career as a photo journalist. Four years of meager pay and loss of personal freedom is offset by the pride that comes from serving in uniform. A true patriot is willing to do what's required, no matter how distasteful, even give their life for their comrades in arms and the freedom of America. Early on war wounds were inflicted -- not by the enemy but by my fellow Americans. I was first wounded by protestors that cursed and spit at me while I escorted a dead patriot to their burial site. I also vividly remember the pain inflicted by loud epitaphs yelled and trash thrown at me while marching in a Boston Veterans Day parade. These are but two of many skirmishes. The constant pounding of the politicians, media and protestors took their toll as they tore away the only possessions a soldier has -- their pride, dignity and patriotism. When ever I see an American flag raised, pledge of allegiance recited or hear the national anthem, I cry for the pain brought upon our soldiers by those that enjoy the freedom and safety others gave their lives for.
The feelings have intensified since 9/11. The activist protesters are at it again and my heart goes out to the soldiers that will suffer. The politicians are again pointing fingers, spewing hate and spreading doubt for their own personal gain. Where are truth and honesty when political candidates "play to the audience of the moment"? The aid and comfort this gives the enemy is costing true patriots their lives. How dare these politicians say they support the troops when all they're doing is encouraging the terrorists. When ever I hear these self serving people call themselves patriots I get queasy and angry. Patriotism isn't anointed -- it is earned. This old soldier cries a lot these days -- still hoping nobody sees.
Americans have the freedom to speak their minds and do as they please. With that freedom comes the responsibility to respect others and consider the effects of their words and deeds on everyone. If responsibility and respect have left our culture, there can be no true freedom. Every time we exercise a right we impact others' rights. "Gimme gimme" is for toddlers not responsible adults. Please honor and respect the veterans and soldiers that have and will risk life and limb for their country. Say "thank you" to these quite heroes. Return their pride, heal their wounded hearts and remove the sadness from their tears.