Veteran Visits “The Wall” After Many Years

Vietnam veteran memorial statue
Vietnam Memorial Soldiers by Frederick Hart

Shepherd’s Staff In-home Care caregiver Jim shared this story about his client, a Vietnam war veteran:

John, a 70-year-old Vietnam war veteran, has advanced Parkinson’s disease and limited mobility. During our early visits, John showed me his Air Force pictures and told me of  his wartime experience. He talked about his exposure to Agent Orange as a crew chief for F4s in Vietnam, and explained that 15 years previously, it had been confirmed that this exposure could cause Parkinsons. At about that time, I had been part of a research team at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research that had conducted a retrospective study that substantiated that Agent Orange exposure caused early onset of Parkinsons. We were both amazed at the coincidence and began to bond.

When I asked John if he had ever been to the Vietnam Memorial, he said no, because when he returned in 1969, people had called him a baby-killer and spit on him. I told him that I had been part of the anti-war movement, but not part of the extreme fringe. Then I looked him directly in the eye and said, ‘John, I am sorry that happened. Please forgive us for being so crude.’

After several months, John agreed to make the trip to DC. He wore his Air Force Vietnam veteran cap for the first time in years. When we arrived, parking was limited and John said, ‘Jim, it will be a miracle if we find a place to park.’ Just then, a car pulled out about a hundred feet in front of us. We looked at each other, knowing something special had happened.

As we approached the site, there were many men wearing Vietnam veteran caps who saluted John and said, ‘Thanks, brother.’ John was quiet, observing everything. We went very slowly through the Memorial, pausing occasionally, aware of the power of the moment.

Afterward, we stopped on the walkway beyond and quietly looked back. A woman with two young children approached John, touched his shoulder, and said, ‘Thank you, sir, for serving our country. She returned to her children and spoke to them; they came over and said, ‘Thanks Mister, for serving our country.’ John silently cried.

We made our way back through the long Memorial walkway, stopped at the sculpture depicting the men who served, and then returned silently home. John never spoke directly about the visit, but I knew he was deeply moved. He now wears his Air Force cap on a regular basis. Some time later, I asked him about it. He said it was one of the most moving experiences of his life.

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