By Marsha M. Brown
ell folks, yesterday marked the sixth-year anniversary of my ‘’Sweetie Pie’ Billy leaving this world enroute to Heaven. It was a sad day yes…but it was a day that I received calls from our kids and emails, texts, and cards from folks beyond family that loved him too and that brought a smile.
In the late morning, I sat out on our front deck in one of our rockers and just stared up at the sky wondering how far our eyes reach toward Heaven where I know he is. A gentle breeze was blowing at the time and when I looked around our yard, I remembered how much he loved to work outside, trim the bushes, wash his truck and pluck a beautiful red rose off the bush close to our house and bring it inside to me…one single red rose that he had already broken the thorns off of so they wouldn’t prick my fingers.
Facing toward the street, I looked to the right to see our American flag (which is on the left if you looked at it from the road) …according to flag etiquette it’s always supposed to be positioned on the left side if attached to the house and I thought about the deep pride he had in it. He never liked to see our flag faded or in shreds and he replaced them at home often when they lost their brilliance.
Over beside our little detached craft barn my eyes fell on the wooden cutout of a kneeling soldier, and I thought of Billy and how prayerful he was as a soldier in Vietnam…before he left and after he came home. I remembered him talking about his quiet unannounced walk home from the old Trailways Bus Station – operated by Virginia Dare Transportation (that used to park at the end of the Manteo Furniture store building in downtown Manteo) the night he came home.
We weren’t dating then, it was in March of 1968 and his homecoming was with no fanfare…no special welcome…it was quiet, unannounced, and even his parents didn’t expect him to come home that night. He said he threw his U. S. Army issued duffel bag over his shoulder and walked from downtown to the Manteo Baptist Church parsonage that was located catty corner from the church (where his Dad was the Pastor) and when he arrived, he knocked on the front door much to Mr. & Mrs. Brown’s surprise.
In anticipation of the following Sunday morning service, his Dad asked him if he would speak to the congregation, many of whom has prayed often for Billy’s safety and return from the Vietnam War and while he was reluctant, he was also thankful for the prayers that had been spoken to the Lord on his behalf, so he agreed. After several days of a very deep sleep in a non-chaotic environment and clean bed with quiet surroundings, he got up; got dressed in his uniform and went to Sunday morning worship service as he had promised his father.
But…when Mr. Brown announced his son had come home and asked Billy to come to the podium Billy did but when he began to speak, he broke down. He tried to get himself together, but it was too hard…as he looked out at the full congregation, he started to cry and left the lectern. Billy didn’t want to do it…he had been through enough and public speaking was not on his agenda just coming home and too much to stand there and act like everything was hunky-dorey. He was heartbroken having seen not long before, three of his closest friends blown up before his eyes and the very last thing he wanted to do was be in a crowd of people…being asked…and having to politely answer a gazillion questions.
It became clear that his Dad, neither having served in the military, or having to defend his own and other people’s lives in direct combat had no earthly clue as to the heavy heart he had brought back with him. He simply had no idea of the toll it had taken on his son and our men and women who had served in that “Hell hole” as Billy called it.
Because he couldn’t stand there and thank everyone at length for their loving support, he felt like he had let his Daddy down and they never spoke about it much after that. In addition, when one of the church members made a comment to him soon after – that he had only worn his uniform that morning “to show off” and Billy wondered then…what the heck was wrong with people…in truth, Billy had little to wear that would fit him post-service. He had lost considerable weight and had planned to shop for new clothes that would fit but because his Dad insisted, he come to church that morning, he simply hadn’t had an opportunity.
Those of us who are non-military or non-combat people are clueless as to what these heroes go through, even wives, children and best friends find it hard to fathom the horror our warriors have seen, heard, or smelled in combat. Not meaning to be…we are sometimes oblivious, numb and extremely inept to understand how a returning vet from war feels. We can feel empathy and sad knowing they have been in a hard place, but we are not capable of understanding the depth of their grief…especially when the end of the Vietnam war basically brought them undeserved trauma and rejection. Shame on any/all American citizens who didn’t embrace them with the dignity, honor, praise, and appreciation they deserved.
If…and I said, ‘IF’ we (the Dare County Veterans Advisory Council) are able to get approval to host in 2023 ‘The Wall That Heals’ – the traveling wall that honors and commemorates the Vietnam Veterans who paid the ultimate price and sacrifice with their life as U. S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard as their names were originally inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., I pray that everyone able to see it, to take the time and stand in its presence…look at the 58,318 inscribed names of lost fathers, mothers, sons and daughters etched on the black granite panels and reflect its monumental significance.
Remember too that while countless veterans of the Vietnam War thankfully made it home, they have since passed from service-connected illness and disease due to exposure to Agent Orange…their names are not inscribed on the Wall. We must never…ever treat our military men and women with anything less than gratefulness, decency, nobility, and pride upon their return to their homeland ever again. Our war veterans, no matter where they served, suffer in different and similar ways…some greatly, and they deserve respect and love and a warm national embrace forever more.
My husband was strong, determined, tough and a patriot soldier and as evidenced by his statue and character, he was kind and caring; he loved people; he had a gentle way with children, old people and those with physical and mental impairments…he was a hero, like all who dealt with the fear, the angst of not knowing exactly who was his enemy and who was his friend in Vietnam…our soldiers deserved a hero’s welcome…IF ‘The Wall That Heals’ makes it to Dare County please take that opportunity to offer to help, and at the very least show up to finally show a justified and unified veteran’s embrace.
Until next week, be healthy, safe and happy…that you live in a country that stands for freedom; look for veterans of all branches; all who have served here and in war torn countries and shake their hand…tell them ‘Thank you’ and thank God every day we have them A-L-L to look up to.
I will continue to look up toward Heaven and think about and love my husband, he was a true gift from God and while I still and forever mourn his passing, I also celebrate his life and the joy he brought into our lives. Love your vet…hug him/her tight and be thankful you still have them. God bless you and everyone in your family and just know that I love you with all my heart. Call me if you want: cell (252) 202-2058 or write to me: [email protected] You can also check out: www.giglineheroes.com for more stories if you’d like. Stay tuned!