This story was featured in the May/June 2017 issue of the Disabled American Veterans magazine.
| 5 minute read
As Memorial Day approaches, I begin to reflect on my life as a proud American and as a soldier. I think about the friends with whom I served. I say a silent tribute to those who sacrificed their lives in battle and those who battle their sacrifice in life. It reminds me of my lieutenant.
It was February 1970 in Vietnam. I had just been reassigned from my Ranger unit, which was going home, to E Company (Recon), 2-8 CAV, 1st Cavalry Division. Typically, our missions were to flank the enemy when a larger unit was in a firefight, ambush the enemy or pull reconnaissance. This small platoon was led by Lieutenant Peters. He was larger than life: 6 feet 5 inches tall, 220 pounds, fearless, intelligent, college educated, athletic—a warrior. He earned two Silver Stars while in Vietnam. He always looked out for our best interests.
The lieutenant had a sense of humor, too. He wanted to go to the Officers Club while we were on a stand-down but not without some of his men. Peters wanted five of us to come with him. He dug into his footlocker and retrieved five “Lieutenant Peters” shirt fatigues for us to wear. We were instantly promoted.
Eleven years after Vietnam, the lieutenant was working as an executive for an international heavy equipment manufacturer. The hidden, haunted memories of war caught up with him, as did his numerous ailments, all of which put him in the Palo Alto VA Hospital in California. There wasn’t a quick cure; he lived out his life there until he died a few years ago. We kept in touch by phone, and I visited him numerous times through the years. I always knew when it was time to visit. He would say, “Pete, I will pay for your flight to come see me.” I never allowed him to pay, of course, but I was on that plane. I figured he was there for us back in Vietnam; I had to be there for him now.On one visit, he wanted to go to the shore. By the time we got there, it was raining so hard no one was on the beach except us. As we walked, the lieutenant — cigarette dangling from his lips—philosophized, as he often would.
He said, “You know, we’re prisoners of war.” I let it go without a response.
Then, again he exclaimed, “Pete, you know we’re all prisoners of war.”
This time I responded, “What do you mean, LT?”
He whispered, “Emotionally. We are all prisoners of war. It’s the price we pay for serving our country. And if I had to do it again, I would pay the price.”
The lieutenant knew how fortunate we were to serve our great nation. It was a privilege to serve with him. On this Memorial Day, be blessed and remember.
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