Monday, May 30, 2011

remembering those who can't forget

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.

18 comments:

Lillian (Unstitched.) said...

Wow. What a powerful story. Today is definitely a day to stop and remember and honor. Thanks for sharing!

Thisisme. said...

Gosh, I'm sat hear with tears in my eyes. What a brave man, and what a powerful story he had to tell. Just shows, we look at people, but we have no idea what they might have been through in their lives.

shopgirl said...

This is an incredibly moving and powerful story. This is a brave man. Not only for surviving that experience but also being able to tell it in front of a group of strangers.

Brandi {not your average ordinary} said...

What an incredible story. I was at a poetry/writing night on Thursday and a veteran read his story about the only time he (as a medic) was unable to save a life. He has no recollection of the event and what he knows of it was told to him by a friend who was there with him that day. It was so moving. I think more of their stories should be told. So we really understand.

McKinley said...

Great post, thank you for sharing!!!

McKinley said...

I didn't mean to hit post, but this story brought tears to my eyes. I have a great gratitude for all that serve our country.

Happy Memorials Day!

Amber Blue Bird said...

the meaning behind this day of remembrance does get lost what with all the backyard parties. thanks for reminding us all what this day is truly about.

chambanachik said...

Haunting. What a brave man.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, what a beautiful story. What a hero this guy is. So glad you shared his story.

~Tiffany
http://tiffanyd22.blogpsot.com

Anna said...

The man is truly a hero. Thank you for sharing the story. I got to honor the Memorial day with my family. We went to visit the Hornet at an old navy base near where we live.

My older brother Zack is in the army. He is a West Point cadet, and just thinking about how much our soldiers give bring tears to my eyes.

Freedom is not free. It is truly precious.

Jennifer Rod said...

wow! im without words.

Bibi - Simple Summit said...

Thank you for sharing his story. It's a very powerful post and I'm glad to have been able to read about him. We need to remember.
B

Daydream Living said...

Reading this is like watching a scene from a movie, I could picture him and you sitting in that room... again, great post Courtney, thank you for sharing this,
Maureen x

Janette said...

Nobody gave that man a hug??? Or shook his hand?? I hope so! What an incredible story..and how amazing that he shared it with all of you...
Janette, the Jongleur

vintch said...

@janette: oh certainly! my office was watching via video conference. everyone in his presence walked by and shook his hand. some hugged. it was beautiful to witness.

Shalyn said...

What a powerful story. I have so much respect for that man.

heart like mine said...

Incredible. breath-taking. Heart-wrenching. This post was all of those things and more.

It is important to remember, not only those who died, but who live with the heartache of what they have been through--all in the name of freedom.

Thank you for reminding us of that and thank you for your beautiful way of sharing it with your readers.

Anonymous said...

just found your blog by accident, its beautiful and moving. thank you.

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