THE THIRTEEN SAMURAI
Thirteen American warriors died at a gate leading into Kabul Airport in Afghanistan the other day. Those warfighters belonged to the same unit I was wounded while serving in Vietnam so many years before. Sometimes those occurrences deeply affect us all, but probably affect combat veterans more than anyone else. As a combat veteran myself, I can only speak for those feelings and reactions, as you can’t go back to being a non-combat veteran once you’ve become one.
Would that life be so accommodating and kind as to allow for that circumstance? The Japanese used to refer to all warriors of old times as Samurai. It is a good word and crosses military services, rank, and designations. The thirteen Samurai were shipped back home to Dover Airfield where they were met by the President and a full montage of high-ranking dignitaries. The flag-wrapped aluminum boxes were formally carried to trucks, in order to await final arrangements by the surviving families, in conjunction with the military.
Times have changed for the better, since the days of the Vietnam War. Veterans are no longer considered as lowly as they once were, and that has been a good thing for all veterans coming home from wars since that Asian conflict. These Thirteen Samurai, as I have termed them, will have their names remembered with reverence and honor. Tables are still being set for them although they will never sit to imbibe from them. One such photo of an honoring of this nature is included with this brief article. Also, offered herein is an incident, that more than likely occurred in the place where you live or work. Downtown Lake Geneva has its veterans, as well as people responding to them, and the response last March 29th was written up on Facebook and is now repeated here for your own edification:
“Yesterday was Vietnam Veterans Day…and I didn’t give a damn, really. How can the regular public be expected to understand or care about what we went through over in that god-forsaken country and war of the time? They can’t. I was in the Avant Coffee Shop in Lake Geneva around noon. I went up to the counter. Andrew was working the barista role, so I asked for a cup of coffee. He went to cold brew, pour-over, or whatever baristas do these days to make great coffee. I waited and talked to him while he worked, there being nobody else in the place to occupy either one of us.
I told him it was Vietnam Veterans Day, but didn’t go into any detail, positive or negative. He slid the coffee mug across the counter when he was done, ignoring the five-dollar bill I was holding out. “It’s on me,” he said. I looked at him in surprise. “For what?” I asked. “Vietnam Veterans Day,” he replied. I was struck dumb. I put my five into the tip jar. I went back to my table and sat there for a while. I was touched to the core, and I could not figure out why.
To Andrew, the gesture seemed so casual and natural, or so it seemed. I sit here, in the same place today, wondering why I was so affected, as I was. And I am. Out there in the world, those of you who might read this and think seemingly small gestures do not mean much, think again. I am sitting here thinking, about how great Avant is and Andrew working in it…and my town…and my life. One small, and not overly expensive cup of coffee, delivered without any ceremony and a few words.
I was, and remain, ‘reached’ and I think all of us should reflect on that…and maybe seek to ‘reach’ a few others. Here’s Andrew, at Avant, in Lake Geneva. The world as we know it is populated with such quiet, wonderful souls, and I hope to know more of them before I move on. I fought for something and people like Andrew help me to understand why and that it was not all for nothing.”
Somewhere, probably somewhere back in the USA, there are commanders of warriors who lost 13 of their ‘Samurai,’ all at one time. I remember being a commander of warriors in such circumstances. The way back home for these leaders still living because they’ve not come yet and that’s for certain, even though they are here among us, is through those who are around and caring for and about them. That kind of support wasn’t there following the Vietnam War, but it is now, and I cannot tell you how much it means to warriors who somehow have come to find themselves in that impossible and unforgiving circumstance. We can grieve for those we’ve lost, who have given it all for our best interest, but we can also take care of those who suffered such circumstances, and then came home only to find that home isn’t like it was when they left it. We all must make a home for that person, and others like him. That home is here, just like those post-traumatic leaders left it not so long in the past, it’s just that they are not the persons who left to go to war, and they can’t go back to being those other guys and gals. It’s the small things that count.
There are 13 beers set up on a table with a small sign as to why they are there, and not being consumed, as the small wooden table overlooking Lake Como. Small gestures like that will reach those warriors who went, and now are trying their best to come home. Let’s all work to understand and help them.
If you would like to read my experiences of my 30 Days in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam the story is available via eBooks, Paperbacks, or reading here on Website