Hanging in the corners of the tent, on display for all those who passed by, were the uniforms of the men who had worn them during this nation’s most turbulent times. Decorated with ribbons and cords, medals and awards, they hung as a testament to the character of those who sat under the cover of a tent away from the hot sun. Each ribbon and award that hung from their chests gave them more right than most to expect something, but they didn’t . They sat there laughing and smiling, trading jokes and stories as they waited to help the next veteran in need of their grace.
As I sat there in the presence of such experienced and accomplished individuals, a feeling of inexperience washed over me. They laughed and joked, told stories and were never short on giving a young 2nd Lieutenant advice. Advice that I will never forget.
We were largely ignored by the rest of the fair. Most people didn’t seem to pay much attention to us, others just seemed to glance on their way to the rides or shuffled towards the livestock areas. It didn’t seem to bother those with the ribbons on their chests. Never once, in all their stories, in all their experiences, did they ever speak a word of animosity or frustration towards the nation they had given so much to.
The veterans always sat together.
As the sun climbed high on a hot afternoon, the depth of what we all shared shown through. A young private in the National Guard came up, in uniform. No doubt ordered to assist with a detail, he walked up to the booth to speak with the veterans. The feeling of inexperience that had come over me earlier in the weekend, was running down his face like beads of sweat, his eyes wide, staring at the symbols of heroism they wore. Men who’d seen combat and came back to tell of their experiences stood around talking with this young private, fresh from basic training. The old veterans paid no attention that he had never seen combat, or that he was a mere private in the grand rank system of the military, nor that he has been in the military less than a year. They spoke and gravitated towards him for one simple reason.: He, at age 19, wore the same uniform that the veterans had.
As we sat under the blazing sun patiently waiting to help those who had once worn a uniform; I began to realize that the low turnout of veterans to our area and being mostly ignored by the general population did little to deter those who sat there, waiting to help.
It was a symbol for how things truly are, the men who earned those medals and ribbons go largely unnoticed in public, but that never stops them from showing up, always being there, and always looking out for one another.