On this Veterans Day, two men who have made an impression on me are on my mind.
Sal was a WWII Vet. His son Mike was my best friend in the 1970’s. Sal was a blue collar guy who worked two jobs to provide a better life for his sons than he had.
One afternoon, Mike and I were heading upstairs in his house to get something from his room. We had to be quiet Mike warned because his father was sleeping before heading off to his night job. As we quietly walked past Sal’s room, a loud blood curdling scream emerged from the room. I could hear the bed shaking. Then just as suddenly, quiet.
I was startled. Frightened really. Mike was embarrassed. “Is he alright? Should we call the police?” I asked Mike. “Its OK,” Mike said, “he does that all the time. Please don’t tell anyone,” as if it was something to be ashamed of.
It had been 30 years since Sal returned from war. He hadn’t, perhaps, had a good nights sleep in those thirty years. PTSD was not a thing yet. But Sal’s suffering was real. He sucked it up and went to work twice a day to provide for his family.
Another Mike I knew did not fare as well as Sal. A Vietnam Vet about 10 years older than me, Mike and I were both salesmen at a auto leasing company in the 80’s.
Mike was one of the funniest and generous people I ever worked with. He was smart, cunning and tenacious. He was also deeply troubled.
Mike had been working at the company for a few years before I got there. He sold cars, but he couldn’t drive because of multiple DUIs. This was the 80’s before driving while intoxicated was treated as seriously as it is today. Mike must have had a lot of DUIs. He walked a mile or so to work every day from the room he rented.
PSTD was not a thing yet, but Mike’s suffering was real. He was self medicating with alcohol and cocaine. One night after a company holiday party, the sales team were hanging out together. Mike knew he was sick. We were his only family. He opened up about the horrors he experienced in the jungle. I remember little of what he said. It wasn’t real to me. It was like someone talking about a war movie. But I will never forget Mike’s pain. His guilt over the lives he’d taken and the friends he witnessed dying violently was real. That he wished he hadn’t come home from Vietnam was real.
On this Veterans Day, I’m thinking of Sal and Mike. I wonder what their lives would have been like had they not experienced the horrors of war.
I am grateful for what my life, Americans lives, are like because they sacrificed.