Honoring our forgotten heroes. GRAND PRIZE WINNER - HONORING OUR VETERANS
He sat there on the cold sidewalk
ignored by those just passing by.
A few would drop change in his hat
but no one stopped to ask him “Why?”
I noticed, underneath the grime,
the remnants of a uniform.
I wondered was it his to wear
or just some clothes to keep him warm?
I asked, from curiosity.
He held a sign for me to see:
“I served in war for this country,
so why have they forgotten me?”
“Forgotten you? That’s just nonsense,”
I blurted out for all to hear.
He shook his head, his eyes downcast.
That’s when I saw a single tear.
I watched it roll across his cheek
and fall upon a shining crest.
One single medal, worn with pride,
lay crumpled on his heaving chest.
A Bronze Star with a “V” device1
that marked him for heroic deeds.
He reached and grabbed it, holding tight,
like others would hold their prayer beads.
His voice was soft, hoarse with disuse.
“Returned from ‘Nam in sixty-eight.
I had no job. I lost my wife.
There was no cheering, only hate.”
“Something snapped within me then.
I tried but couldn't reconnect.
I’m not asking for a free ride;
just understanding and respect.”
I didn't know how to respond.
I felt the tears whelm in my eyes.
How many heroes had I passed
who wore a homeless man’s disguise?
I sat down on the cold concrete
and we spoke for a goodly while.
I finally asked, “What is your name?”
and was rewarded with a smile.
“It doesn't matter what I’m called.
That part of me is in the past.
What matters most is those who’ve served
receive the thanks they’re due at last.”
I stood up then and faced this man,
having finally understood
how we blindly count on others
to take care of the things we should.
We’ve forgotten as a nation,
of this there can be no dispute,
the debt we owe for our freedom.
I gave him my best hand salute.
“On behalf of those who've forgotten
and pass you by without a glance,
welcome home, thanks for your service
and for giving ME a second chance.”
He stood, with his hand on his heart.
“God bless this land,” said with a sigh.
Then, he turned, walked down the street
and this time with his head held high.
I never saw him after that
but he left this thought with me,
instead of change dropped in a hat
consider giving dignity.
An entry for the September round of "HONORING OUR VETERANS"
Based on an occurrence in Washington, D.C. Summer, 1998
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