Thinking this month as we celebrated Veterans Day of the Veterans in my life. In many ways their experiences were similar. No doubt they could have shared with each other stories of boot camp, of foreign lands and the homesickness they must have felt as they left family and friends behind for their tour of duty.
Yet each one had their own story. And I honor them all.
US Navy – World War II
First was my Dad, Hal Sechrest. Dad entered the Navy in the middle of World War II. He saw action in the Pacific serving on the battleship USS North Carolina. Dad never talked much about the war, but I remember him telling how their ship was struck by a torpedo and I could sense the fear he must have felt in that battle. He told me when they said, “War is hell!” they were telling the truth.
US Marine Corps – Vietnam War
I got an even better sense that war is hell when I married my second veteran, Lonnie Lott. Lonnie and I married shortly after his return from a thirteen-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Like my Dad, he never talked much about the war. Lonnie was wounded in the war and he carried shrapnel in his leg the rest of his life. When the weather would change, he would often experience pain in his leg. But the emotional scars were greater than any physical ones. For the first months if he heard a loud noise (someone dropping a dish or a car backfiring) he would panic and start looking frantically around for a place to take cover. For several years he would wake me up at night by crying out in fear and pain as he had nightmares of the fire fights, of his buddies who were killed and severely wounded, and of the men he also killed in battle.
What is so ironic — Lonnie survived the war in Vietnam only to die in an accident in his front yard!
Twenty-year service – US Air Force
Sometime after Lonnie’s death, I married again – my third veteran, Paul Lane. Paul served in the chaplain’s office during his twenty-year career in the USAF. While he never saw any “action” in the Vietnam War, he was part of the vital support for the men who did. Providing a place where they could come and find comfort, strength and spiritual rest was an essential service. Paul also does not talk that much about his service, but when he does I sense while he never knew the fear and horror involving in actual fighting, he suffered the pain of separation from family. While his family was with him most of the time, there were times when he was stationed where he could not bring his family with him. Being away from your children when they are growing up is a difficulty those who do not serve our country never know.
Thankful for a change in attitude!
When my Dad came back from World War II he said a serviceman could walk into any bar in his uniform and someone would offer to buy him a drink.
How I wish Lonnie could have received such respect. Unfortunately our Vietnam Vets suffered much when they returned home. One evening right after Lonnie was discharged we were driving in St. Louis when a car load of young men began following us. At every stop light, they would yell at Lonnie “Hey baby killer!” Lonnie received the Purple Heart and a few other medals. He wanted to show them to his immediately family only. But when he opened the box containing his Purple Heart, one of his brothers said, “I don’t want to see any medal you got for killing babies.” Lonnie took the medal home, put in the bottom of a drawer and never allowed it to be taken out again. There can be arguments whether we should ever have been in Vietnam or not – but the outrage or anger should have been expressed at the politicians who directed the war, not at the young men trying to do what was right for their country.
I appreciate the sacrifice each of my veterans made to serve our country. I know sometimes war may be necessary to protect our freedom, our homes, our families, but I also know “War is Hell!” and I long for the day the prophet Isaiah spoke about –
And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.