I have no roots. No hometown. Not one single place to truly call my own spot. You might think that this is a terribly sad thing, but I do not. I find it exhilarating, refreshing, and full of freedom.
I am free. I have no specific hometown, because my hometown is all of America. I have been a wanderer, a traveler, a gypsy of sorts.
My heart pumps with the blood of warriors, because I have the blood of American soldiers coursing through my veins. I am proud of that. Damn proud.
A descendent of patriotic fighting men, my father, my grandfather, my grandfather’s father. I am, and was, what you call an Army Brat. A term of endearment used for a child with a career soldier for a parent, and one who has lived all over the place due to military transfers.
Always moving, always being the new kid while growing up, I know a little bit about feeling lost.
Which is why today, when I witnessed another lost soul trying to find his way, my heart filled with pride, but also melted with a bittersweet sadness.
Today, at a home improvement store, I had the pleasure of helping an old man. This Old Man was looking around aimlessly, it seemed. His head held high, but a bit of confusion hidden behind aging eyes that didn’t seem to see as well as they used to.
Instantly, I was drawn to him. I recognized the posture immediately. Even if my mind had not registered the Korean War Vet hat that he was wearing, I would have known instantly that he was retired military. There’s a certain way of carrying the weight, a careful attention to the way they are shaved, dressed, and presented. The way they walk, the way they talk, and the memory of long hard battles in the eyes. The nuances of an old soldier never fade away.
Drawn to him, I watched from afar for a few minutes. My heart did a little flip flop inside my chest as thoughts of my grandfather, a retired fighter and survivor of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, sprang into my head. Beautiful memories erupted out of nothing, reminding me of a time that I was privileged enough to spend with my very own American hero until he passed. My hero. My grandfather. My Papa.
I watched him, This Old Man, looking up and down an aisle, a piece of paper held tightly in his wrinkled hand, and I decided to approach him. I asked him if I could help him find anything, and he smiled the smile of a grandfather, while his faded gray eyes sparkled with tales of never forgotten battles. This Old Man had a story. I just new it, and I really hoped I could coax him into telling it.
After helping him find what was written on his list in his slightly shaky but neat penmanship, and after him explaining that his eyes weren’t what they used to be, I nonchalantly brought up his hat and thanked him for his service. He smiled and thanked me for helping him. I told him my grandfather fought in Korea, and that I was an Army Brat. I watched his eyes light up with enthusiasm when he asked where I was born. Fort Bliss, I said proudly, and told him all the wonderful places I was privileged enough to have lived, including Germany, because of my Army family.
His smile was like sunshine bursting through a cloudy day, like when you see those shimmering rays pouring through the sky, like beams of pure gold penetrating the gloom. It was a glorious old smile, in a glorious old face. We began to talk more, him speaking the language of memories, me listening intently.
I walked with him to the checkout lanes. Grateful for once in my life that the lines were long, I eagerly stood with him and absorbed as much of his story that he was willing to tell. Lucky for me he was willing, and happy to reminisce.
I allowed him to decide what he wanted to share this day, and watched as he gathered his thoughts, as his mind traveled to another place and another time. I listened, and I wasn’t at all disappointed.
I stood next to a stranger, an old forgotten hero, who was slightly bent, with thinning silver hair. He smelled of peppermint with a hint of aftershave, which was pleasantly comforting to me. I stood next to an American hero and listened to a tale of war. A tale of comrades never forgotten, of heroism told with a humility that downplayed his bravery. I witnessed a humbleness that warmed my heart, and a strength that spoke volumes about what our old soldiers must have endured, just to allow the freedom that so many of us take for granted.
I listened, and I listened some more. We continued to talk after he paid, his desire to tell his story equal to my desire to hear it. As we moved to the exit, my mind was on fire with battles and heroism, hardships and brotherhood. I took it all in and craved some more, but as all good stories do, it had to come to an end. Much to the regret of both of us.
I stood there smiling, shaking an old firm hand, as an old soldier told me good bye, and told me to have a blessed day. I watched him walk away slowly but proudly to his car, and I wondered if he knew that he had been the blessing of my day. This Old Man. A blessing. A hero. A warrior.
His story is not the only story. There are many stories out there, many heroes, many old soldiers, many of whom we are losing everyday. We are losing them to the battle of old age, a battle that can not be won. The battle that all of us will one day lose.
This Old Man lit up my afternoon with his story, and this story, and all of their stories, we should never forget.
So why are we forgetting them? Why are we forgetting our elderly? Wisdom and advice is available for the taking, and we are too busy or too arrogant to accept it.
Today, I helped a lost old man, and today, an old man helped me to not be lost.
This Old Man is your neighbor, or somebody who visits your place of employment, or that you see eating alone at a restaurant. He might be shuffling past you at the mall, or driving a little too slowly in front of you. This Old Man is everywhere, but he is nowhere, because he is not seen, and he is being forgotten.
As the anniversary of the day that I lost my favorite old soldier approaches, I am reminded of old men and old women, the ones who helped make this country what it is. The elderly who have honored this country, fought for this country, and died for this country. The ones who have worked hard, toiled long hours, raised children, raised families. The ones who have lived through it all, been through it all, and have advice for us. For you, for me, and for all of us.
My papa had stories for me. Among them were old war stories. There were stories of life, of death, of working hard and being honest. There was advice, and love, and guidance. There were history lessons, and love lessons, so many lessons I wished I had paid attention to when I was young enough to think I knew it all. Above all, there were stories of the world’s greatest hero, Jesus Christ. A hero that laid down his life for all of us, to save us. As a little girl who wasn’t a member of a family who went to church, these Bible stories fascinated me. This Old Man, my grandfather, was the beginning of my love for God. This Old Man, gets credit for very likely saving my soul, and undoubtedly many others, because This Old Man, who enlisted in the Army at sixteen years old to go off to war, was afraid of nothing, and he was definitely not afraid to talk about Jesus. My papa fought in wars for his country, and he saved souls. To me, This Old Man was a hero. My hero.
So today, or tomorrow, if you happen to find yourself talking to an elderly person, take the time to listen. A few minutes of your day might very well be the highlight of their week. Ask questions, I do! I absolutely love asking people in their nineties the secret of happiness. Try it! Every single one of them will tell you something different, but every single answer is true. Some of the answers I have received have made me giggle, and some have brought tears to my eyes. Every single separate answer comes from experience and wisdom. So ask questions. Contemplate the answers, because they have been through all the things we have, and have lived to tell about it. They have truly lived and learned.
Advice. Wisdom. Life lessons. War stories. God stories. History. Knowledge. Love. – It’s all there for the taking, and it’s all for free. Who wouldn’t want any of that?
So maybe the next time you see him, that old guy struggling with something, maybe looking a little lost, maybe just looking a little alone, remember that he isn’t just This Old Man. He is history. He is strength. He is a survivor. Most of all, he is you and me. Lord willing, we will be the elderly one day, and we will have our own survival stories and lessons to impart, hopefully to a younger generation who is willing to listen, and to not forget.
My prayer today, is that you ask the old man upstairs to open your eyes to the forgotten. To let you truly see This Old Man, and to help you to listen. Ask God to help you look, see, help, and learn from a member of an unremembered and lost, past generation, a generation full of heroes, before they are all lost to all of us.
In loving memory of This Old Man, Charles W. Wills, who left the battles of this world behind on May 14, 2012 and went on to have eternal victory in the next.
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I was a soldier. I am a soldier. I will ALWAYS be a soldier. – Army Veteran Tribute
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.
Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?
for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;