Remembering the fallen, and scorned this Memorial Day

I still get goosebumps when I think about the story my son told me about his experience walking through the airport about a year ago.  Today, the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I heard the story of a Vietnam Veteran at the Memorial Day Celebration in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston.  RYANrefueling2015My son Ryan, an air refueling specialist in the Air Force, was transferring to another base during his training with a group marching through the airport in Denver to a connecting flight.  Somebody stood up and started clapping. By the time they were half way to their terminal, nearly everyone in that part of the airport was standing, clapping and cheering.  I was so proud when I heard the story. Proud to be an American. Proud that my fellow Americans recognized what they are doing, and showing their respect.  It was nothing like that for Butch Millette.  butchMillette, now living in Lewiston,  was a combat medic in Vietnam, riding a helicopter to battle, jumping out to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.  He saved many, but could never save them all.  Those memories still haunt him.  While the politicians, dignitaries and others were gathering at the top of Veterans Memorial Park, preparing to give their speeches, I noticed two people at the waters edge, kneeling in front of the memorial stone set in place after the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall had visited.  It was a windy morning, cold and bitter.  I was already emotional, I get that way at these things. I can’t help it.  As I watched the pair, all alone in their thoughts, a big gust of wind blew in my face, causing the first tear to drip down my cheek.  I fought back more, but it was a lost cause when the music started playing.  I looked over to the couple. It appeared he was shaking. His wife grabbed his hand.  At that moment, I caught the eye of a rugged, middle aged man standing next to me.  He was watching me and had a knowing look on his face.  I got a chill. It wasn’t from the cold.  He looked over to the couple kneeling and looked back at me.  I did not recognize him.  Never in the past 35 plus years of covering events had I seen him.  His face was unique, weathered and kinda sad looking.  Somebody I would remember for sure if I had run into him in the past. He wore no uniform, but had a small pin on his worn jacket.  It was a triangle with a bunch of stars.  I looked at it and he looked at me.  I actually felt myself shiver.  It was surreal.  He looked back to the couple and I picked up my camera and zoomed in.  I shot a few photos, but was too far away.  I looked back over to the stranger, but he was gone, just like that.  I felt another sensation.  Not a chill, something like you get when you look down from a tall building, or go over a big dip in the road.  I felt compelled to get a better photo of the couple and needed to talk to them to find out their story.  I moved closer and made some better images.  I did not want to disturb them, so I kept an eye on them and walked back to where the speeches were starting. The star spangled banner was playing.  I noticed an old friend I have known for years in the line of dignitaries look up.  Willie Danforth pointed and everyone else looked up. eagle A big, beautiful, bald eagle was flying overhead just as the song was ending.  Like it was scripted. Another chill went up my spine.  I looked for the couple and noticed them walking away and rushed over to talk to them.  I have read, watched movies and even talked to some Vietnam veterans in the past.  But nothing could have prepared me for the raw emotion Butch Millette conveyed.  He talked about the pain that still lingers.  Losing his best friend.  He didn’t give details, but those I am sure replay in his dreams regularly.  He said too many died “over there” …..too many he said a few times.  And then he talked about the worst part.  Coming home.  It was with such sadness.  He gave credit to his wife, an army veteran herself, for giving him support and helping him through the difficult times.  It was at that moment I thought about my son’s experiences.  Having people pay his bill when he is in uniform, or shaking his hand and thanking him.  The smiles and respect he gets. At that moment I thought about how it must have been for Butch.  Fighting for his country.  Watching his friends die.  And then to come home to such hatred.  Instead of cheers and smiles, Vietnam vets came home to jeers and spit in the face.  Never before or since have our troops been treated so badly, disrespected and ridiculed.  It does not matter if you think we should have been over there, or for that matter, in any theater of conflict now or in the past.  Those who fight for our freedom deserve our utmost respect and admiration.  We live in the greatest country on earth.  No matter if you agree or disagree with where the politicians send them, our troops answer the call.  It is why the United States of America has the life, liberty and freedoms we often take for granted.  Let us not take our troops for granted, and the sacrifices they make, let alone the horrors many carry with them long after they leave the military.  Let’s all  thank them whenever you can.  Especially those who fought in Vietnam.Vietnam vet salute

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