The Truths of Veterans Day

Friday, November 11, 2005

I never thought much about the meaning of Veterans Day -- strange for someone who spent 26 years in the Army. But last year I got it: Memorial Day is to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and Veterans Day is to honor those who have to live with the sacrifices they made.

My wife and I went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Veterans Day last year to visit her cousin, who was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) 10 days earlier in Iraq. On that day Michael was in the critical-care unit with a tracheotomy tube and other tubes stuck in his body. He had a patch over his right eye, which still had shrapnel in it, and stitches in his face and hands.

Michael couldn't talk -- his jaw had been shattered and was wired shut. He was frustrated, but he did his best to keep up the appearance of good spirits as he communicated by writing on a small white board. He was in excellent spirits, in large part because President and Mrs. Bush had visited the day before.

Michael is an amazing young man and every bit the U.S. soldier. He spends a lot of his days visiting his driver, Dennis, who was wounded in the same explosion.

Dennis, a 21-year-old private first class, is the son of Russian immigrants. His parents are working on gaining their U.S. citizenship. His mother was aided by an interpreter in her discussions with Dennis's doctors -- one example of the Army's "leave no stone unturned" approach to making the best of a bad situation.

Both Michael and Dennis have undergone numerous operations in the past year. We have visited them often, taken them out to dinner and had them over to the house. On one occasion, shortly after the explosion, I asked Dennis what he hoped to do in the future. Sitting on my couch, with the tracheotomy tube still in his throat and his head bandaged, he said, "I just hope I can reenlist." I had to leave the room -- too emotional for an old soldier.

Veterans Day is for honoring all these brave young people who are the vanguards of freedom for this generation, as well as to honor those who suffered similarly in previous generations. Take a moment to remember the sacrifices they will have to live with -- God bless them.

KEVIN VARGAS

Arlington


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