American Saints

Old heroes are falling by the hundreds every day. Some die in VA hospital beds. Others, in tents off the interstate, wearing rags.

Augusta, Georgia—the VA Medical Center. Her father smoked like a freight train, even though his doctors told him not to. But, he was dying of colon cancer. If he wanted to burn a couple packs, by God, that was his right.

He was Special Forces. Army. He swore like a commercial fisherman. He chastised any who misused the name of the Good Lord.

He’d seen a lot in his time. He’d been a prisoner of war during Vietnam.

Chemotherapy was some kind of hell, even for a POW. After his last round of treatment, he sat in the courtyard of the Charlie Norwood VA for a celebratory smoke. His daughter beside him.

A fellow vet approached. The man was dirty, bearded, tattered clothes. He smelled like the wrong side of a manure shovel. He asked to bum a smoke.

His name was John.

He stayed. They talked. When her mother arrived with the car, her father introduced the new friend.

She gave the man a once-over and said, “You look hungry, John, come on.”

Come on. The most gracious two words you will ever hear a Georgian say.

They took him home. Not only did John eat supper, he sat with her father and talked. Their conversation lasted into the night.

John stayed for two months.

They made him a member of the family. In return, John treated them like the only blood kin he’d ever had.

“He held Dad’s hand,” she goes on. “He prayed with him when the pain got bad, he wiped Dad’s mouth when he was sick. John even helped Mom and me move him…”

Her father’s last twenty-four hours were bad, but John was there. She remembers him waiting by the door with a washcloth, or a basin. He never hesitated to do what needed doing, no matter the chore.

Just before her father passed, they gathered around his bed with the clogged faces. They gave him permission to go.

John waited in the den.

“It’s strange,” she says. “Because I remember John being there on the night Dad died, but I only vaguely recall him the day that followed. He didn’t stick around.”

Nobody ever saw or heard from him again.

That was ten years ago. Since then, the world has kept spinning. New wars have started. Old wars finished. New American heroes made.

Old heroes are falling by the hundreds every day. Some die in VA hospital beds. Others, in tents off the interstate, wearing rags.

“I wonder about John a lot,” she says. “I keep little bag in the car for homeless vets… A gift-card, cash, clean socks, some toiletries. Isn’t much, but maybe there’s a John out there that I can thank.”

Maybe there is. In fact, maybe there are billions of them. Some smell bad, some starve, some smoke too much.

Others hide wings beneath a green coat.

25 comments

  1. Sandra Swindall - March 2, 2017 10:29 am

    What a powerful and moving story! Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Maryovida Vickers - March 2, 2017 10:36 am

    ❤️…mo

    Reply
  3. Nora - March 2, 2017 11:25 am

    The shame of America is that we have homeless Vets. They offered their life for us. The least we can do is make sure they have a place to live, food to eat and medical service. If politicians can continue to receive exorbitant pay after leaving office, we should be able to continue the pathetic pay a soldier gets for the sacrifice that he/she has made. A soldier is more important than the politicians who have gone to congress to make themselves wealthy. They had plenty of money to start and can go back to their lucritive life. Soldiers have had their lives changed dramatically. Many don’t have lives to go back to. They need an income.

    Reply
    • Wanda - May 29, 2017 2:47 pm

      You are so right, Nora!

      Reply
  4. Cherryl Shiver - March 2, 2017 11:33 am

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Every man has pride, some just hide it quite well. Most generally, I can pick out a soldier or law enforcement office, any color, age, or size. I thank the good Lord for allowing me to be raised by one and falling in love and marring the other.

    Reply
  5. gail kaye - March 2, 2017 12:14 pm

    Thank you so much for this. So many veterans now sick from agent orange. My sweet husband is one and many of his friends that were in Vietnam with him.

    Reply
  6. Priscilla S. Adkisson - March 2, 2017 12:18 pm

    Sean, life keeps me busy and I don’t respond often to your writings, but I am reading every single one. I see a good heart there. Thank you for reminding me that life is more than “about me”, and for reminding me there are many needs (of all kinds) right outside my door – and that I just might be able to make a difference. Your words challenge me and that is a good thing. Thanks, again.
    PSA

    Reply
  7. Karen Erwin-Brown - March 2, 2017 12:22 pm

    Good one. My Dad was disabled vet . Worked for VA over 30 years. 1 good arm. Took all phone calls at home helping vets and families get benefits.
    Back then families had 1 phone. 4 kids rolled their eyes when calls came.
    Rained like a monsoon day of his funeral. Strangers lined up to pay respects for his kindness.

    Reply
  8. Carol DeLater - March 2, 2017 12:25 pm

    Good story. You see a lot at the VA hospital..and clinic for that matter. But every September our area has a Stand Down day where all Vets can come to get help and information. For me, it’s the saddest day of the year. We are there to give out personal care bags and hope we can help anyone that needs it. There is more need than most people know or even think about. But don’t get me started.

    Reply
  9. Mary Howes - March 2, 2017 2:59 pm

    Now you have made me cry ,again ! ♥

    Reply
  10. gayle tucker - March 2, 2017 5:44 pm

    A very touching story. But, it has given me, an ex jarhead, an idea. I am going to keep gift bags in my car to hand out. If everyone did that there would be more smiles and perhaps more hope.

    Reply
  11. Regina - March 2, 2017 5:47 pm

    Thank you. No words.

    Reply
  12. Michael Bishop - March 2, 2017 6:14 pm

    I have always thought that “homeless vet” ought to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. I think that more strongly every passing day. Bless you for this story

    Reply
  13. Jane - March 2, 2017 8:06 pm

    Sean,
    I have only been reading your blog for a short time, but everyone of your stories make me cry or laugh. I have found that I share them with my children who are grown and now living in other parts of the country – but their roots are buried deep in the South. The south has been their home, continues to be my home, and is our heritage. Please keep on writing.

    Reply
  14. Marion Pitts - March 3, 2017 2:08 am

    Goosebumps! I loved this.

    Reply
  15. Sally Johnson - March 3, 2017 4:06 pm

    I love
    all your posts. I just found you about a week ago. Keep sharing your thoughts and feelings. There are still great people in this world and you are one of them.

    Reply
  16. Terry Bodie - March 4, 2017 10:37 am

    Sean, I appreciate the beauty of your writings. I am vet (thank God not homeless), a retired teacher whose first wife died from cancer, a father of four fine young men and grandfather of five beautiful grands, so I connect with your writings on many levels. If you are ever back in the Pace, Florida area, I would love to buy you lunch. Thanks again for your work.

    Reply
  17. Leon Salter - April 4, 2017 11:31 pm

    Haven’t seen any posts recently. Are you taking a sabbatical?

    Reply
  18. Cathi Russell - May 4, 2017 9:00 am

    Ugly cry at 3:30am…shame on you! 😥 Wonderful post!

    Reply
    • Rooster Campbell - May 4, 2017 11:07 am

      Love that one, Sean. Thanks again.

      Reply
  19. Gerri - May 4, 2017 12:44 pm

    Beautifully written story of the Angels among us. On any given day you can sit at a VA medical facility and watch our heroes come and go. The deserve our best. The best doctors, the most high tech, well staffed, clean, modern facilities. They don’t have that. They deserve so much more than us stepping over them as sleep in doorways. Standing for the flag to honor them? Absolutely. Giving our money to Veterans charities? You betcha. But the best way to honor them? Take a hero home. Feed him. Clean him up. Be his family.

    Reply
  20. Gloria - May 4, 2017 2:11 pm

    As always, a message of hope.

    Reply
  21. Danny C Hall - May 4, 2017 5:12 pm

    Good story , true

    Reply
  22. Dena - May 4, 2017 5:20 pm

    Oh Sean – how do you keep hitting me right square in the feels? Coming from a long line of proud vets, this really got me. Thanks for putting it out there.

    Reply
  23. Karen Bethea - May 4, 2017 8:22 pm

    My husband served 20 years in the Army, his Father served 30 and his Grandfather, a General, was MacArthur’s MD in Japan and served 30 years. My father served 26 in the Air Force…his only brother, an Air Force Lt. during WWII was killed during takeoff of a bomber from the Aleutian Islands – I have his medals. Many others in both sides of the family served this country from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War…some had to kill to live. I grew up during Viet Nam and hanging in my den is a print of the Viet Nam Memorial. Hanging on it is the bracelet I got during Viet Nam, of a MIA…he was never found…I saw his name on the Wall and made an imprint of it. I watched the kids come back from Nam and de-plane and be spit on by people. I had a good friend, Air Force Col. Bud Day who died a few years ago – he was a POW in Nam for 6 years – shared a “cell” with John McCain. Have a friend here in Athens, Al. who was a tunnel rat…he has been a mess since I have known him. A terrible war, as all wars are – John is a prime example why we must ALL pray for Peace….or there will be an entire new generation of Johns walking the streets – looking for places to be Angels when allowed to do so….

    Reply

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