Tell Them you Care

I recently decided to visit some of the veterans in several nursing homes. I was especially interested in doing this since my dad is a veteran of World War II and I am a reservist in the United States Air Force. I thought the visits would be nice, but I was not prepared for what occurred.

I guess I thought these veterans were regularly remembered, especially on holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th, and Veterans Day, but unfortunately that is not the case.

These men and women who brought peace to the world and then quietly came home and rebuilt the nation, have virtually been forgotten and unappreciated. What they did is the platform upon which this nation so proudly stands, yet fewer and fewer of our population understand the sacrifices and commitment these people made.

I wore my uniform when I visited these veterans. I had no idea how much that symbol would mean to these noble warriors. I visited one man who hadn't spoken in four months. I was told he probably wouldn't acknowledge my visit. When I walked into the room, he saw the uniform and sat straight up in bed, eyes bright and attentive.

I told him I wanted to express my appreciation for what he had done. I told him how honored I was to be in the presence of someone who had done so much for the peace of this world and the growth of this nation. I said I wanted to give him a miniature flag as an expression of my gratitude.

He took the flag and held it to his lips and sobbed. He held my hand and said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." These were the first words he had uttered in months.

There was not a dry eye in the room. In one nursing home, we had the Honor Guard from Dyess Air Force Base present the colors before the veterans. As the Guard entered the room, these wonderful men, with tears streaming down their cheeks, placed their hands over their hearts and pledged allegiance to the flag that they loved.

In two other homes, we had been given a new flag from the U.S. Senator. We brought the veterans outside to view the flying of the new colors. When I gave the command to "Present Arms," these veterans who were stooped with age, stood as tall as they could and saluted. As the National Anthem was sung, tears flowed with grateful appreciation.

I proudly cried with these soldiers of the past. I was honored to talk with men who landed at Normandy, fought in North Africa, Sicily, Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Bulge. I visited with men who survived the attack at Pearl Harbor and three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. These quiet heroes cried and shared their cherished memories with me.

Over and over, they and their families told me how much my visit and my simple expression of respect had meant to these men of history. Never have I felt so humble and yet so proud and lifted up as I did in the presence of these veterans.

Today, the veterans of World War II are dying at a rate of 1000 a day. Soon, they'll be gone. For you active duty military and reservists, I implore you to put on your uniform and go visit any and all veterans you know. I encourage everyone not to waste another day, but rather, sit by the side of these honorable men and women. Hear their stories. Tell them you care. Learn from them.

It will be more rewarding than anything you have imagined.

Lt. Col. James T. Patterson, USAFR

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