by Sherri Kukla He came home from the war a different man.
It was the 1970s. It wasn’t his first tour of duty in Viet Nam, but it was his worst.
He left behind friends. Some known dead, some presumed and some simply missing.
His duties in that war on that particular assignment caused him to witness horrors many of us will never know. He was known to have a drink or two before this cruise.
He was known as an alcoholic afterwards.
He came home to war protesters on the streets and the university campuses.
Shortly after his return from this last deadly cruise, he left his family and sought happiness elsewhere. Just walked off one day. Never said goodbye. Never said sorry. But then, who had said “Sorry” to him? Sorry for what you had to see over there? Sorry for what you had to see once you returned?
Not the protesters. No, they were on to more important things to worry about. They had an abused environment to protect. Who could be bothered with the needs of people?
I hadn’t heard from him or even about him in a number of years until a phone call quite a few summers ago.
Made from somewhere in Nevada. A gambling town.
He was out of of money. Said his wife was sick. Said he was going to be put out on the street. Wanted me to send him some money.
Some checking around proved what I suspected. He had gone through several thousand dollars in the previous two weeks. Besides being addicted to drink, he was also a compulsive gambler.
I think long and hard about the climate protesters. Some aging hippies. The ones who protested the war before they protested our treatment of “Mother Earth.” Some just uninformed or misinformed millennials who protest probably just for the fun of it.
And I wonder, do they care about this man’s life as much as they care about imaginary climate change? Oh, surely not all war veterans turned out the way this man did. In fact, a goodly portion of them turned out okay in site of what they experienced. But do the climate protesters care that the things these men and women experienced while serving our country pushed some of them over the edge? Yet they didn’t run out. They didn’t burn the flag or curse their country. They didn’t take the side of the enemy. They served anyway. Many paid the price with their lives. Some dying and in a grave, others just dying a little more every day as evidenced by their wasted lives.
When I called him back that summer after doing some research, he scoffed at the phone numbers and addresses I wanted to give him for emergency shelter and medical assistance. I never even got far enough down my list to tell him about the church I found. But as much as he wanted to convince me that sending him money would solve his problems, I knew it wouldn’t.
It was a hard decision to make, but I said, “No, I can’t send money.” He wasn’t much interested in further conversation. And, somehow, I knew that was probably the last time I’d ever hear from him.
But I had one more thing I’d like to say to my dad and to all the veterans of all the wars.
“Thank you for sacrificing for my freedom.”
A high price was paid by the living and the dead; by the men and women who served and by their families.
Let’s not take our country or our freedom for granted.
It cost way too much to do that.
Sherri Kukla is the editor and co-publisher of S&S Off Road Magazine. She along with her husband, the guy-in-the-garage, are also the founders and directors of Thundering Trails camp for kids in SoCal. She can be reached at ssormag@ gmail.com or www.ssorm. com.