English: Purple Heart decoration in presentati...

Purple Heart

USA Vietnam Shoulder Patch


To sacrifice is to give up something valuable in exchange for something deemed more valuable.
I don’t know anything about being a soldier. I have never been close to a war zone but I have been close to a few vets. My Grandpa Gus was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in WWI. I don’t recall him ever talking about it but I can remember holding the box and looking at the impressive medal lying in its bed of white satin. I would sit in his lap and feel the small particles of shrapnel that were under the skin around his ears.
Father-in-law, Bob, was in Patton’s army serving in France and Germany. His experiences included the freeing of prisoners in Hitler’s death camps. If prodded he would sometimes tell us stories about the “good people of France” who appreciated the soldiers’ protective presence. He told of being on watch on a cold winter night and of a kind French man bringing him shots of cognac. He didn’t like to talk about what he saw in the camps.
I live with my best friend, G. He served in Vietnam for 28 months from Oct 1968 through Jan 1971. They called guys who served a second tour “two-patchers” referencing the patches they wore on their sleeves to designate their core of command. He won’t be thrilled that I am writing this. Unlike some who revel in their war stories, G is very private about his. He tells me it’s not important. Something about it is important to me. Maybe I am seeking more empathy.
I am committed to writing about whatever is on my mind and this morning I am thinking about the lifelong sacrifice soldiers make when they go to war. Participating in a theater of combat is a life-altering event. Those who survive are not who they were before they entered battle and the course of their lives is forever altered.
I have been reading Kevin Sites book, The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldier’s Won’t Tell You about What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War. As I read the stories in their own words, I am trying to understand the sacrifices these combat warriors made on the battlefield and continue to make when they return home.
When they were young, G’s two daughters made a shadow box containing his medals and patches. It holds one of the three purple hearts he was awarded. He put one on his father as he lay in his casket and the third one disappeared. The box holds a silver star, the third highest award for “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States” and a bronze star for valor awarded for “heroic or meritorious achievement.” There are two Vietnam Service medals awarded to soldiers who served between July 1965 and March 1973. There is a Combat Infantry Badge, awarded for being under enemy fire in a combat zone and two patches that designate small branches of special services. USARV was a support command which was later changed to the 24th Core. MACV was implemented in response to the increase in US military assistance to South Vietnam. G was a Sergeant assigned the job of a Lieutenant in his branch of special services. That fact seems odd but understand that Sergeants were paid less than Lieutenants and G’s position had an unusually high mortality rate. He called in air strikes. I get that the guy calling in the air strikes would be a high-priority target for the enemy. They were losing too many Lieutenants…
I look at this small shadow box and my brain struggles to comprehend the events that resulted in each patch or medal resting on the red velvet fabric. I cannot now nor will I ever know. I am unclear as to why G’s war story has become so compelling to me. This kind, gentle man who sacrificed so much and suffers so silently patiently answers my questions but tells me “it’s not important…let it go.” The part of me that loves him says, “This is important…go ahead and ask the questions and listen carefully to the answers…more will be revealed.”


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