In the Halls of the Birmingham VA

In the halls of the Birmingham VA, I spot another veteran of “my war.” I think of all “current conflict” veterans like this. The VA usually refers to us as “OIF/OEF.” Most of the civilians call us Iraq or Afghanistan veterans. I’ve heard a few refer to me as an Iraqi vet. I tell them I’m American. When they look at my funny, I remind them that they don’t call their Uncle Doug a “Vietnamese Veteran.” That usually clears it up for them.

In the halls of the Birmingham VA, I spot another veteran of “my war.” My war. He’s a fine looking young man, I would guess Marine. Marines have a “look.” You know it’s true. Also, our tattoos seem to be of a certain type although when pressed to do so I have a hard time explaining exactly what I mean by that. He’s let his blonde hair grow out now. It’s in a ponytail and he’s sporting a goatee and mustache. At first I think I know him. Then I realize I’m thinking of someone else.

He walks with great difficulty and with the aid of one of those canes that has the piece that wraps around the forearm. “Our war” took a lot from him. To call what he is doing walking is generous. With the hand that’s not inserted into a cane, he crawls down the wall grasping from one door facing to the next. Everyone watches. He knows that everyone watches.

No one, absolutely no one would blame this guy for using a wheelchair. There are certainly many people riding around in wheelchairs that could walk with more ease than he does. He’s not giving up that easy. I understand this guy. I want to help him. I understand that I can only help him by not helping him. By letting him do this. I can pull for him. I can pray for him. But this he has to do on his own. And he will. He’s a Marine. He will succeed. Indeed he already has.


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