Do yourself a favor. Keep an eye out for a vet.
Actively seek out someone in your church, synagogue or temple and befriend him so that what happened in Philadelphia last week never happens again.
A doctor at the VA hospital told a 92-year-old veteran that he had waited too long to seek medical attention and that he would probably lose the vision in his left eye. The earlier a person reports a retina tear, the more success a physician has in repairing it. In my case, I was in the operating room within two days of seeing a doctor in one hospital and his arranging for my two-hour procedure in another.
It saved my eye, even though I won’t be totally out of the woods for the next several weeks when a final prognosis can be established.
The older veteran didn’t make the cut. For some reason, he waited two months before an eye specialist saw him. Unfortunately, no one looked out for his best interests. The greatest concern now, the doctor said, was for the other eye. The ex-GI was 19 when World War II broke out. He probably enlisted. It was the same age I got drafted and ended up in Vietnam.
Listening to the conversation from a waiting room filled with veterans, I learned that the 92-year-old had a hearing problem just as I do. “How are you doing?” the doctor asked him. “I’m 92; that’s how old I am,” he said. The doctor slowed his speech and spoke louder, something you do when you have to deal with the hard-of-hearing. I wondered if the old soldier had gotten the hearing loss the same way I did, that is, “service-connected.”
An 86-year-old veteran sat in the room near me. He had been accompanied to the hospital by a woman I guess was some 30 to 40 years younger. She wasn’t a family member. You could tell by the conversation. I figured she was someone who volunteered; maybe a member of the guy’s church who drove him into the city for major eye care.
You get to know a lot about fellow veterans when you “hurry up and wait” for your VA appointment, particularly at the eye lab. There, the physicians from the city’s most prestigious hospitals see us on Wednesdays. Operations are performed on Thursdays. (I was an emergency “add-on,” having seen the surgeon less than 24 hours before going under his knife.)
You can wait for hours sometimes, and it’s a great way to appreciate your country by listening to the stories of those who let themselves be placed in harm’s way so that 99 percent of the other people didn’t have to.
For the longest time, I resented the guys who evaded the military and stayed at home while the rest of us got drafted. I felt robbed of the last years of my youth. Just a year out of high school with the first taste of a job, a car to drive, and the whole world to see and there I was, conscripted by Uncle Sam.
“Greetings,” said the letter that introduced me and a lot of kids from working-class families to the US Army. Why was I selected and not some of the others, the more affluent ones who had a little more “pull” with somebody who could get a son or a younger brother out of the draft?
But, we served, and it wasn’t until years later that I have grudgingly taken pride in that fact, particularly, after mingling with veterans of different ages, colors and religions. There is something we all share no matter what our background: WE DID IT!
I sat next to a fellow who said he had joined the merchant marines and escorted the ships that landed on Normandy on D-Day. He was drafted several years later and served 17 months in Korea. Another old-timer was automatically promoted to sergeant after the army learned this high school drop-out could fix anything, including German mines that he deactivated, and lived 60-some-odd years later to talk about. That fellow, who went as far as ninth grade, was permitted to take a test for Philadelphia firemen and police, something that was only open to high school graduates. They made an exception because of his military service, and he scored the 21st highest out of 2,000 who took the exam. He secured the waterways of Philadelphia as a marine patrolman for 20 years!
You can get to know your own history by getting to know a veteran. Spend time with him and both of your lives will be enriched. He can be a crotchety old buzzard. Most veterans are; they had to endure physical and psychological hardship to get through military training, not to mention how toughened up they learned to become if they faced combat. Their highest aspiration has been self-reliance and they don’t want to be a burden on anyone for anything.
You can hit him upside the head with loving kindness and compassion. Order him to fall into line with what you know would be best for him.
Don’t let them be forgotten. Keep an eye out for them.