Lost heroes

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A memorial to a vet who returned

By Tom McDonald

We’ll call him our lost hero. He served in Korea, though it could have been any of America’s wars. Early on, he was captured and taken prisoner, and he spent the duration of the war in a POW camp.

Later he received an honorable discharge from the military, but he never seemed too far removed from those three years he spent in that prison camp.

And yet, unlike the 54,000-plus who died in that Forgotten War, he survived. He returned home with invisible injuries and developed a drinking problem that would time and again rob him of his better nature. He wanted to do better, and he tried, but the demons that lived inside him never really let him go.

This American veteran — who shall remain nameless because it’s too personal, too tragic — didn’t make the “ultimate sacrifice” as so many other soldiers have done. Still, he gave his life for his country.

Yes, he was fortunate enough to return, but like so many others, he came home wounded. In Korea, the history books record more than 100,000 soldiers wounded, but we suspect that number doesn’t count soldiers like our lost hero, His wounds weren’t obvious. Nevertheless, they were there.

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who died in service to their country, but we want to submit our lost hero as a man to also remember on this day — because something inside him died in that POW camp in Korea.

Such tragedies should be enough to make war a last resort. Add to that the deaths of so many promising lives and we have a vivid reminder of the terrible consequences of the hell of war.

Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died in our wars, but we should also remember those who lived through them. All of them cry out for meaning.

We remember our lost hero, who had developed the skills of a master plumber after the war. At one moment in time he found meaning in some charitable work, helping an elderly couple get running water into their house. It sparked something in him, a burning desire to help someone else. So he asked a service program if he could help. A passion to serve his fellow man had been ignited.

Another job, applying his skills, was arranged. Donating his time and labor, our hero would reconstruct a bathroom and shower to make it wheelchair-accessible for a man with no legs. A day was scheduled for him to do the work.

He didn’t show that day. He got drunk and lost his way. The demons had robbed him of his better nature.

Some veterans rise above it all and make their way as true heroes. Others get lost in the shadows. To this day, we cry for our lost hero. God help the veterans who didn’t make it.

This editorial, written by Tom McDonald, first appeared on Memorial Day 2005.