Judging by the array of responses to part one of this column, I admit I was a bit reluctant to get to part two. Which, of course, means that the terrorists won. It always amazes me when people who take so much hubris in being American, act in such decidedly un-American ways while claiming to defend the country. Any country weak enough to be threatened by my petty keyboard clattering couldn't have been that strong in the first place. After all, the concept of free speech is a meaningless slogan if it only extends to agreeable speech. Those who claim they fought for our right to free speech and then threaten and harass those they disagree with are themselves enemies of the very rights they claim to care so much about.
All that said, let me tell you a story before I really get around to pissing you off.
Once upon a time there was a loyal citizen who was attacked and robbed and left by the side of the road for dead. A priest passed by, ignoring the wounded man and even moved to the opposite side of the street to avoid contact. Next a proudly religious man came by and hurried off, leaving his wounded fellow citizen in the dirt. Then a hated, supposed enemy of the state came upon the wounded citizen and helped him up. He treated the wounds as best he could and gave the man a ride to a place he would be safe while he healed.
I know that many of you are unfamiliar with this story since it is a parable of Jesus telling us how Christians should care for each other. How do I know that you are unfamiliar with the way Christians are supposed to act, my fellow Kingmanites? Well, because it is also the story of the homeless Gulf War veteran I picked up alongside the road yesterday after he had collapsed while hitchhiking to his hometown of Kingman. He was my age, 51, Kingman High School class of '77. The bone thin sun browned grizzle bearded former war hero had been on the road for 3 days trying to get from Nellis to his camp under a bridge off highway 93 before heading on to the VA office in Prescott to continue struggling in his losing battle with government red tape while trying to get treatment in his continuing losing battle with Gulf War Syndrome. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of cars had passed the man, who was so worn down by the time I saw him, he couldn't even sit up properly and was simply leaning against his GI issue duffel bag, less than a mile from the bridge out of Laughlin.
ACL, TBI, COPD, PTSD, the man's medical history was a veritable alphabet of misery. It all started downhill that day in 1991 when his commander, while wearing his own gasmask, told the men it was safe for them to take off theirs and they needed to "clean up the shell casings Saddam's boys left lying around." That commander is now dead and so are most of the men from that group, or are like him, fast headed that way.
"One of every four homeless guys you see on the road is a vet, you know?" he explained. "But they don't want to talk about that. The way the VA tries to deny and deny and deny you till you give up. What all we did, they should be helping us, instead of using our own laws as an excuse to not have to. At Nellis I waited in line 7 hours to get seen. When the doctor finally looked at me he said, 'Boy, I can't help you. You got to go to the VA for that down in Prescott.' I said, 'How am I gonna get there?' He said, 'How did you get here?' I told him 'I walked.' And he laughed at me, laughed at me and said, 'Well, boy, you better got going.' Half my age and calls me boy. Doesn't even know what I've been througha nd calls me boy. Look at these spots," he said and pulled back his sleeve to reveal a baked brown arm covered with pinhead sized white dots. "There's thousands of them, all over. Been driving me crazy for like 20 years; but you can't get help on this. They say it's chemical related, related to the chemicals we got into over there. They say that now; but for the first ten years they kept telling folks nothing ever happened."
The black ball cap plainly said US Army, the duffle bag was that unmistakable olive drab; but that hadn't made much difference . "Folks don't trust each other anymore, don't help each other. I put that on the media. Media's America's biggest enemy these days, sets everyone after each other's jaw. All the time. It's the anger that sells. Besides, " he stroked his cheek, "they see this suntan and this lack of shave and a lot of them they figure I'm not their kind. If it wasn't for faith in the Lord, I don't know how I'd keep going. It's not like the government's going to help you. It's like anymore the government tries to make matters worse, not better for the average man, unless you're rich I guess, then that's not average. Recession hell, the rich are still doing just fine. Used to be government tried to do stuff for the people, but now it's just who gets the next tax cut."
He explained he kept up with the news on his walkman. "I listen to a bunch of talk radio; but they don't know what they're talking about. They're always running down Obama, like the mess we are is was his fault. They never give the man a chance. The man came into a bees' nest that Bush left it in. You know they don't talk about any of the trouble that man made, just try to turn us all against Obama, to keep him from doing anything. You know that Bush he cut Vet benefits. Sure did; but nobody talks about that. They just wave that flag at you and tell you how much they need you, then leave you on the side of the road."
He said more, but you get the point. Just as so many of you noted, it is easy for me to type words against vets, when I had not faced their fight; it is also easy you to claim you care about veterans, as you blithely drive by and leave your fellow soldier in the desert to die.
Part Three Next Week.