(reprinted from April 3, 2007, in honor of Veteran’s Day)
I was sitting in the VA Clinic in the western suburbs of Chicago with my dad. He was there for a regular blood test, something that’s part of his regular checkups. There were a dozen of us in the room, older men, wives, me. The appointment was for 9:30 am, but if you arrive early, Dad said, you don’t have to wait long.
The door to the medical space opened and two nurses appeared at the door. One called one name, and then the other, witha giggle in her voice started calling names: “Mr A, Mr. B, Mr. C…”a list of 6-7 names.
The men stand and slowly fall into line. One with a walker, one who can only shuffle, a couple standing at attention, others just quietly complying. They follow the nurses and, though I can’t remember what he said, I heard my dad making some funny remark.
Mr is what they are called now, but the service that qualified them for this service never showed them such politeness, nor smiled as they came nor waited patiently. These are men who paid for this attention with time and with blood. They gave up the ability to sleep without nightmares, some of them, and the ability to tell stories of significant chunks of their lives to their grandchildren. For them, shots still are about blood, but this time they are giving small amounts for testing. The previous shots, at least in one case I know of, nearly cost them life.
The only bathroom for the clinic is out in the waiting room, and so they must come with little bottles back through the doors and one at a time into the bathroom. It seems pretty obvious to those of us in the common space, but for these men, who abandoned privacy with the draft, it is far more modest than anything they knew in Viet Nam or Korea or anywhere in between.
“Good morning, young lady” is the greeting from one called later. “They didn’t call the ambulance so I must be okay,” said another. And a steady stream of phone calls while I wait. The staff voices are always patient, always cheerful, always helping. For a Monday morning, this is remarkable customer service.
And then, he appears at the door, ready for breakfast. Dad had to fast for the blood test and
we’re off for pancakes and coffee and conversation. But as we move slowly to the car, limited to the speed of the walker in his hands, and the legs slowed by a stroke several years ago, I am aware that my dad’s service to his country didn’t end when he got out of the hospital 52 years ago. He and his fellow soldiers keep showing up for roll call, keep responding with dignity. They still are a cross-section of humanity. They still stand for what happens when ordinary fragile human beings understand what has to be done and do it.
And at least one of them faces the rest of his life with a deternination to do what he can for his family and for the God whom he has served well for the last five decades.