Yesterday a service technician from Time Warner showed up to hook up my cable and Internet. But as we began to talk I learned that he wasn’t only a service technician – he was also a serviceman, a former army medic. I began asking questions about his experience in the military. He was as medic at the nearest hospital to the twin towers in New York when they fell on 9/11. He was a first responder. He went back and forth between the hospital and the pentagon in the aftermath of the attack. He explained that his wife went into labor the very next day from the stress of the situation. It wasn’t long after that he was sent to Alaska with the army for training. He would be there 2 years – away from his family.
The army moved him to multiple locations across the U.S. to train in cold weather, hot deserts and everything in-between. I learned his marriage wouldn’t last through the long distance separation. After his training he was sent to Iraq as a medic. The things he saw and experienced I cannot begin to comprehend. He said, “I was only there a year.” (My thoughts – a year? You were in a war zone a year!) But he said so many other units were there two years and more. He was quick to minimize his service compared to others. He served in South Korea helping secure the boarder with North Korea. He shared with me the situation on the border and the fear that South Korea deals with as North Korea might advance on them at any time.
And then, he began to describe to me his life back in civilian work.
When he retired from the military he tried to get a job working at one of the local hospitals but they all turned him down. One said his voice seemed too harsh or firm (he’s been in the military dealing with the most horrific situations for goodness sake!). Most other interviews were dead ends because they said he didn’t have a college degree. You see my friend hadn’t spent his youth years studying books and racking up college debt at a university – he has spent his years training in freezing Alaska and caring for the injured and dying in war torn Iraq.
But he said, “I’m thankful for this job,” the job he found at the cable and Internet provider.
And this was the part that got to me the most. He pulled out a keychain attached to his work belt. It was an army medic keychain. And he explained to me that he kept it hidden when he goes into people’s houses to fix their Internet – because not everyone likes to see it. He’s seen how it offends some people.
My heart dropped. This man setting up my cable and Internet is the same man who fought to protect my freedom after those 2,978 people died in 9/11. He cared for our nation’s injured in the deserts of Iraq – and here he is in my apartment with a keychain hidden because we – we as a nation have become so inconsistent with who we are. In fact we have forgotten who we are. Many enjoy freedom living a life disconnected from the evils of the world. And some are completely unaware and ungrateful for the sacrifices made to secure our freedom. In fact some Americans don’t even respect those who secured our freedoms, and are even disgusted by the keychain that hangs from a serviceman’s work belt.
It saddens me to think that there are men and women who are shamed for their service to this country, that they feel they need to hide the reminders of the sacrifices they made to ensure a safe and secure nation for the rest of us. This Memorial Day I am especially aware of these men and women, and I’m very grateful.