Leaving the Chain Unbroken
 After unknowingly losing half my hearing to a claymore,
fifteen years later
tinnitus arrived.
I eventually found myself
inside a huge granite building
not far from the French Quarter.
It was filled with military veterans,
half of whom
looked old enough for WWII.

I’d studied the faces of veterans before,
growing up in V.A. neighborhoods
where 8" x 10" black-and-white photographs of uniformed soldiers
were prominently displayed.
The photographs captured youthful faces,
with intense eyes
that suggested pride and grim determination.
Some uniforms were adorned with rows of medals
for deeds of which they never spoke.
They were lean, handsome men,
in their absolute prime.
It was the best they ever looked.
The images mesmerized me,
and still do.

Today, only family could match
a virile young face
to the ancient, angular head of its rightful owner.
Over time,
those bronze faces had turned ashen
and been crisscrossed with road maps of dark blue veins
as youthful dimples gave way to canyons of wrinkles.
Gone was the cat-like quickness,
and instant reflexes of combat soldiers.
Gone too were their golden locks,
thick manes, unruly curls
and pencil-thin mustaches.
Their physical prowess
and silverback strength of middle age,
were also spent.
They were considerably practiced at concealing pain
and remaining silent.

Among the veterans passing through the V.A. that day
were those routinely awakened from shallow sleep,
by unpleasant recollections,
civilians would call nightmares.
Perhaps they recalled something on the Appian Way,
or happened on a dot of sand and coral,
or crossed the Yalu River,
or awaited them in a tree line
beyond the next rice paddy.

Men, who have never sleep soundly enough to know,
an American dream even existed.

Too often, America views its war veterans as outsiders,
or willful non-participants in the realm of normalcy,
yet, many are emotionally stranded in a private,
often painful place
that exists somewhere between home
and a distant battlefield.

Men, who have never hoisted sail,
nor drifted far enough from shore,
to journey in the current of America's mainstream.

Most are silent still,
though their quiet courage spoke loudest
when it mattered most.
We owe them much.
While surpassing every reasonable expectation,
except perhaps their own,
during their most meaningful yet personal task,
they did their duty,
and left the chain unbroken.

KatieC   KatieC wrote
on 4/28/2008 5:40:26 AM
Excellent as always, Ron. Your ability to transport us "there"...wherever "there" is....is sharp as ever. ~k

Mike Firesmith   Mike Firesmith wrote
on 4/27/2008 7:11:44 AM
Ah,another Gather refugee. Welcome to Writing Room, Ron!

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My first trip to the V.A. hospital.
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