there's a man where i work. an IT professional with a suit and tie. thin-rimmed glasses. he gave a talk last tuesday. it was non-mandatory, and the conference room was sparse. he began his story slowly, in front of a white wall, with no visual aids. he talked about flying over vietnam, and how his plane was shot down. the tanned faces of his captors. about being taken from little town to little town, paraded around like a trophy. the stones thrown. the jeers. the spitting.
he talked for two straight hours about the torture. the months in solitary confinement. at one point, he reached into a small black bag and pulled out a pair of simple cotton pajama pants and a long-sleeved shirt. "i asked to keep my prison pajamas," he explained matter-of-factly. he proudly displayed his metal POW bracelet, mailed to him by a little girl. he talked quickly, strongly, with no breaks. it was an informative wartime recount told by someone who had been there. he explaned in incredible detail the interrogations, the statistics of losses, and how it felt to sit in a dark room for hours, waiting on a guard to come in. i marveled at his ability to detach himself from it, to speak in the tone of a history professor, not a victim.
then, when the questions were finished and people were beginning to fidget, he looked at the ground, and talked in a different tone.
"there was one time, i was asleep in my cell. there were no windows and no sunlight. i didn't know day from night, nor did i know what day it was. a guard came knocking," he said.
"i opened the door and the guard said, 'don't you know what day it is?' and i replied 'no.' then the guard looked at me and said, 'you should be sad. today is christmas eve. your family is at home celebrating. and you might never see them again.'" he looked around the room at us and sighed. "that was 40 years ago."
with that, he took off his glasses. and wept. openly in front of interns, executives and CFOs. we sat there with him and did not speak. then, we quietly gathered our things and returned to our bright offices.
death lurks all around the war. and this day is significant in remembering those taken while in battle. but sometimes, it's only a part of a person that dies. both are hard. both are worth remembering.