“Not yet, not yet.” These were the words a mother of a soldier who returned from war with severe, incapacitating PTSD composed to her son’s commanding officer almost forty years later. The mother wrote from a voice in heaven, as if her son had died, because in many ways he had – died emotionally; died cognitively; and died in spirit. Years had passed and she wanted his leader to know how much her son admired the man. How much he believed the officer had done everything possible to prevent the ambush that cost the lives of sixty-four troops. A dispensation of grace, for through her son’s stories, the mother realized how much trauma and burden the officer must be carrying from such a massive loss of life.
Even after four decades the pain and memories still persist as if the battle had just occurred. I am left to wonder how long a human being must or can endure such heartache. Being in charge of the lives of others is an incredible responsibility. A responsibility that makes losing those he led more devastating. One death would have been terrible, but sixty-four is beyond measure.
We heard the story while attending a reunion of the Black Lions who served in Vietnam. The get-together was a relatively small gathering compared to many war reunions. Small because the Black Lions were an elite unit of soldiers who traveled light both in men and equipment. And smaller still because so many had died during the many jungle encounters with the enemy.
Almost every survivor had a story and every attendee had an inner strength that somehow allowed him to live forward each day until now. I only hope that at this point, the time that remains in these old warrior lives can be lived with great joy, peace and personal forgiveness if needed. Our veterans deserve a bit of these gifts and so do their families. So when the mother wrote, “Not yet, not yet,” meaning… do not leave this earth too soon, the same words persist, “not yet, not yet”, the time for personal healing is now!
Blessings and God Bless our vets young and old.
There are all kinds of reunions: high school, family, college, etc. Then there are those reunions that aren’t organized just for celebrations, but more importantly for remembrance, honoring fallen comrades, and healing. The biennium gathering of Vietnam Veterans who served in Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry was one of these. This year it was held in Colorado Springs, CO, and we were invited to be part of the three day events. On Friday we visited Ft. Carson where the group was graciously granted access to several special base training sections including the simulation area where troops were able to practice their shooting skills. Another simulation building housed four look-alike Humvee Vehicles with machine guns, and other high tech equipment. Soldiers practice their driving skills and teamwork prior to deployment (or re-deployment) to assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. These maneuvers proved far more challenging than any of us ever imagined. It made us realize how incredibly intelligent and efficient our current troops are when being trained for combat. Our young military guides were so enthusiastic about their mission, their work and their willingness to serve their country. Each had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan at least once. Many had experienced three deployments with a fourth coming soon. I couldn’t help envisioning the huge sacrifice they were making, as well as the commitment from spouses, children, and parents.
The reunion ended with a banquet on Saturday evening which was far from any I had ever experienced. Before dinner was served, the names of almost one hundred fallen and missing comrades were read by various members of the Regiment. Then, all eyes focused on a round, empty table that sat on the stage with a vase tied with a red ribbon holding a single red rose. A dress military hat sat next to the vase which made the entire scene a poignant reminder of those who would never attend any of these reunions. Since many of our customs and stories are mirrored through metaphors and symbols, I thought you might find the following explanation of the empty table meaningful.
The table is round – to show everlasting concern for our missing men.
The tablecloth is white - symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty.
The single red rose - reminds us of the life of each of the missing, and the love ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.
The vase is tied with a red ribbon - symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing.
A slice of lemon on the bread plate - is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.
A pinch of salt – symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.
The Bible - represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
The glass is inverted - to symbolize their inability to share the evening’s toast.
The chair is empty - they are missing.
Sometime, perhaps 20 or 30 years from now, the warriors of today will be the old soldiers of tomorrow. Perhaps they will gather to remember, to heal, and to honor those who die in today’s war zones. And likely, they too will honor a single, empty, round table with an inverted glass and a red rose.