By Mark Bowser
Recently, I read a story on social media that touched my heart. It was about a veteran of the Vietnam War. I have a soft heart of appreciation for all our veterans, but there is a very special place in my heart for our heroes who served in Nam. One of my closest friends, Danny Lane, served our country in that terrible place and earned two Purple Hearts among other medals for that service.
The story I read online was about an Army veteran named Richard. Richard also had been shot in Nam. A sniper had left his mark on Richard for the rest of his life. Over the years, Richard didn’t talk very much about his time in Nam. I find this a very common experience with veterans. Danny never spoke much about his time in Nam either until I was able to convince him to allow me to work with him in writing his story in the book Some Gave It All. My uncle was a co-pilot of a B-25 during World War II and he never spoke much about his war experience either. It wasn’t until I had a project in one of my history classes in college that he opened up about his experience. Can you imagine, living with something in your memory that is so terrible that you can’t talk about it? Yet, that same terribleness visits you regularly in your dreams. We must never forget the sacrifice our veterans have made for us. It has become a cliché but it is so true — freedom isn’t free!
Richard had a special picture of his time in Nam. Something that meant so much for our young men that were so far away from home was the USO shows with Bob Hope. Richard had a grainy 8 x 10 inch black and white photograph of superstar Ann Margaret that he had taken at one of those shows.
Years later, Ann Margaret was scheduled to be signing books at a bookstore near where Richard and his wife lived. Richard decided to go to the book signing to tell her how much those shows meant to him and his fellow soldiers. Richard knew there would be a large crowd so he showed up very early for the 7:30 PM signing. He found himself the second person in line.
Before Ms. Margaret arrived, the bookstore employees told the crowd that she would be signing only her new book — nothing else. Richard understood, but was disappointed because he was hoping that she would sign his old photograph too. “Oh well,” he thought. “At least I can show it to her and let her know how much the USO shows meant to all of us.”
When it was his turn, he handed his book to Ann to sign. Then, he pulled out his photograph. Immediately, the bookstore staff butted in and said she wouldn’t be signing that. Richard looked at them and said, “I understand. I just wanted her to see it.”
As Ann looked at the photograph, her eyes moistened with emotion. She said, “This is one of my gentlemen from Viet Nam and I most certainly will sign his photo. I know what these men did for their country and I always have time for ‘my gentlemen.’” Ann gave Richard a big kiss and posed for several pictures with him. It didn’t matter that there was a long line of people waiting. Richard was one of her “gentlemen” from Viet Nam.
Later that night at dinner with his wife, Richard was very quiet. His wife asked him if he wanted to talk about it. Richard looked into the face of his loving wife and with tears in his eyes he said, “That is the first time anyone ever thanked me for my time in the Army.”
Freedom is definitely not free. We must never forget the sacrifices our men and women of the armed services have made in order to keep us free. So, here is to you Richard, Danny, Uncle Bill, and all our veterans. Thank you for your service.