They gather each year in remembrance of their efforts to keep our country free. They gather annually in reunions....some come alone, now widowed, former life partners of the fallen, coming for the social event.
They recant sweet and sometimes amusing stories of their loved one now gone. They talk of their fallen friends, these warriors of old, discussing tales of bravery reliving the trials of war. They question their survival in a war they lived daily, rising early to sit in the halls and lobby, old eyes fixed on the elevator doors in anticipation of seeing old buddies.
Then the look of relief washing over their faces when they see each other, both realizing that there is one less to morn.
They rock to and fro while sitting to lesson the hurt of rising to their feet on now weak legs, a practiced smile on their face to mask their pain. Canes, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs are abundant. Atrophied limbs, some prosthetic disguise their physical disfigurements. Some limp, some totter along like a child first learning to walk. They never complain of their infirmities, they each bear their suffering privately. They each walk as tall as they can, they would strut if they could.
They study old tattered albums of colorless photos and get all excited over any new photos recently discovered. They pour over these new pictures and discuss where, when and what they see.
They proudly wear shirts they have adorned with the insignias of their ship or squadron. They point out living heroes to the new members and speak of heroes deeds past and present with genuine reverence.
In the coming days everyone will know who will not be back ever again, with fierce conviction they blink back tears. Though old now they are still warriors and warriors do not cry--do they?
When they gather at round tables in the hotel bar talking, they seem to forget their age racked bodies. Their eyes reveal their inner strength with a sparkle when discussing yesterdays. When they were young, strong and virile they burst with pride, for their cause was just, for in their war there was no grey area.
They ceremonially eulogize their fallen friends in the banquet room with the blessing. Then dine and dance to old big band era tunes as though it were a celebration of those passed.
It's a shame that they have to keep the flame of remembrance up alone. We truly owe so much thanks and respect to these people. Young people today seem to have forgotten or think there's always time to thank them.
These heroes are still among us today, though their numbers are dwindling. They are not just shadow figures in an old black and white newsreel. They are all around us---grandparents, uncles, that old lady at your church. They deserve recognition for their selfless acts of bravery, for they have certainly earned it.
Please pledge to listen to what they have to say, for I believe that is what they cherish.
The respect we can afford by just taking the time to give them our attention by listening respectfully. Who knows we may learn something.
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