After hearing about our friend MG earlier this week, I couldn’t (and still can’t) help but think of so many years of friendships with those who’ve served or still do.
As usual, I have no idea where this article is going to go, as I’m rambling on about things on my heart. Just a warning that if what I say doesn’t make much sense, it’s because I’m just me, some name behind a screen who basically talks my thoughts out loud. I take bits of things learned and try to make some sense of them for my own understanding, and also trying to understand where others are coming from.
Whether just to listen, or encourage or help someone who might need someone to listen. To care. I don’t know much, and the bits I learn, somehow find themselves along with my friends, in my heart. Sometimes I wish I could know them better, but sometimes it feels as if I do know them more than if I knew them face to face. I don’t know if this makes sense at all- but sometimes some things are so clear when the face to face times are stripped away and we can see the real person behind their thoughts through writing to each other. Other times though, a keyboard and words can come off as something completely different than what was intended and so sometimes talking my thoughts out loud leads to messes and misunderstanding.
Thinking of what happened to MG this week made me think of another friend too. It might seem lame to consider such a brief encounter as a friendship, but I considered him my friend since that first time I met him. I wrote about him a few years ago. Some of you might remember, but others won’t know about Mr. Pat until I tell about him here.
I was told about Mr. Pat from a mutual friend, many of you know, Tinlizzieowner, a Vietnam Veteran who was also a volunteer at the Military Heritage Museum down here. I met Tin on the Right Scoop years ago, and then went to the Museum to meet him in person. He and Mrs. Tin are amazing folks whom I’ve grown to love. But Tin kept saying, “You’ve got to come up here and meet Mr.Pat. He’s got stories… he’s a walking national treasure.”
So finally, I did. I grabbed American boy, headed up and finally met Mr. Pat.
Pat Thornton was an incredible man who served in the 95th Infantry under General Patton in Europe, one of the Iron Men of Metz.
Mr. Pat was an amazing artist, having sketched scenes of his experiences in France during WW2. While visiting with him for a few hours, he told me many personal stories about his experiences, his unit, about getting wounded and showing me pictures in his sketch book that he carried with him all across Europe.
He and some of the men from his unit had been in a French village when they were ambushed by Germans. They hunkered down for a little while, shooting back when they could, then tried to escape, while under enemy fire. Mr. Pat and a couple of others were shot, yet they helped each other escape, thankfully making their way back to the rest of their unit where he was taken to a field hospital. There were no available surgeons to take the bullets out of his leg, so he had to wait a few weeks before seeing a surgeon (who were all at the front lines) and by that time, the wounds had healed over. The surgeon told him if he removed the bullets, he’d have to stay in the hospital another couple of months to re heal. Mr. Pat told the surgeon to forget it. He went back to his unit and back to the war, carrying within him, those same German bullets…
There were so many other stories he told me that day . Mr. Pat passed away in November 2013, but I will never forget my time spent that day with an incredible man who loved to share his experiences in a way you could almost feel as if you were there and learning a little about the man behind the uniform.
There are others I’ve been blessed to meet, in real life, and online. Some are buried a little deeper in my heart than others because they’ve taught me so much about life, all the pain and joy that comes with it, and even the part of life we all experience through death.
Remembering Everyone Deployed is for me, an every day experience- but it’s not only the deployed I remember, and not only those who make it home. I think of so many, guys I will never know in this life, but who touched mine by giving theirs.
Sgt. Eddie Jeffers was one who has no idea of how much he grabbed my heart and attention with one sentence I read of an article he wrote years ago while deployed in Iraq…
“Right now, the burden is all on the American soldiers. Right now, hope rides alone.”
Many people read that poignant article which described what many of our troops saw when they were over there. It was a hard look and reminder of how words said by politicians, media and others State side can effect the morale of troops overseas. The war in Iraq has and always has beeen a divided and heated subject, in which, much like Vietnam, rhetoric and emotions too often targeted our troops instead of the politicians who send them.
I know hundreds of people wrote to Eddie after that article was published. I was one of them, and Eddie’s dad graciously answered. His dad David and I have been friends and he has been a mentor of mine ever since.
I have wondered often if Eddie had any real idea of how many lives he touched with his words, or the ripple effect of how his words changed people’s lives or thoughts. If my heart was changed, I can’t imagine how others’ would not be too.
Many people over the past few years have asked me why I love our troops and Veterans so much. It’s not easy to articulate, because there is so much more to it than I can usually express, but when it comes right down to it, it’s all Eddie’s fault because he started it.
I can’t say that every thing I’ve done or interactions with our Troops and Veterans is directly because of Eddie, but he was the original ‘seed planter’ which sprouted into my desires to speak up for them, to love them unconditionally, and to try and encourage them. That I have some amazing friends, and one particular Green one as my best friend is an added blessing.
Eddie died in Iraq in September, 2007. He was 23 years old. He didn’t sit and wait on someone else to speak up, and yet his legacy lives on. I can’t compare to anything at all, but I can only take his example and do the same and speak, love and encourage. And try and understand who they are, and why they do what they do.
God does things we don’t understand, and while He never minds us asking “Why Lord?” He doesn’t always answer. Some stories don’t belong to us, and the ones who might find the answer are those whose stories God is weaving. But He does give us bits of hope, love and comfort through many circumstances, no matter how hard or heart breaking they are. Through Mr. Pat, God blessed a lot of younger folks who’d never have known what made the “Greatest Generation” so great. With guys like Eddie, God blessed a lot of people with hard words from someone who knew what he was fighting for, yet like thousands of young men returning from Vietnam were faced with people who didn’t care, were apathetic or worse- blame them for war and violence. Never considering that Blessed are the peacemakers, and those who desire peace most are those who fight for it hardest.
I’ve had a few of my friends over the years tell me they feel more like machines than humans because of the training and situations downrange they deal with. I might not completely understand it because I’ve never lived it- but if I can help them to see that God created them as He did, to do a specific job that so many will never do, and gave them the abilities to endure everything they’ve had training to do, that’s what they deserve. To know they are fearfully and wonderfully made, created with the gifts they have to protect and defend innocents. While many talk of peace, and often blame Soldiers for the lack of it, peace in a fallen world is hard to come by and always has been. But when I consider what our world (fallen as it is) would be like without our friends, neighbors, family members willing to do that which God created them for… I thank God even more for them.
And that brings me to my Mean Green. God has blessed more people than we will ever know by showing us what love, commitment, loyalty, honor and duty really means through his living it. Not only as a warrior, but as a cherished friend.
It’s not easy being a friend and loving someone who has commitments to others first, and who is gone more often than home. Yet he has taught me more about true friendship and helped me be a better one. He’s taught me about loyalty and trust, and helped me to learn to trust again, and while I still mess up, I am learning to be worthy of being trusted. Through many years of absence and even heart aches, he’s taught me how to trust in God and to dig deeper into a relationship with Jesus, to try and see others through Jesus’s eyes, and to see how God moves in more ways than I could ever imagine. To feel His presence in circumstances beyond any control, and know that He loves those soldiers so incredibly much.
I am grateful, so incredibly grateful that Mean is OK, and I pray he will heal completely and get back to his boys. One more thought entered my mind this past week, remembering the last time he got hit. I learned much from him then too, and understand his need to get back.
As much as I would like nothing more than him being able to come home to stay, and have both him and Snake home… they are incredible blessings to me, and are deep in my heart. I hope they will always know how grateful I am for their friendships.
But I know God made them for a bigger reason.
Blessed are the peace makers.
Thank You Lord for them.