Thank You …
It’s amazing how those two words, delivered from a sincere and obviously grateful heart, can warm the soul, spark the emotions, and lift the spirit of the recipient. Two little words, fitly spoken, deeply felt, warmly welcomed.
Tonight, a long way from home, and a long way in time and space from the events of almost 40 years ago, those two words reached deep into my memory and redefined my perspective.
As I was sitting in the dining facility (DFAC) at the Forward Operating Base, no, we don’t call them “Mess Halls” any more, someone I’ve never met spoke those words to me – words not for me alone, but for you my fellow Vietnam Veterans, which is why I share them with you now.
Dinner at the DFAC is always nice. Plenty of food. The option of sitting quietly and watching either the news or sports, or sitting with others. Typically I’ll sit in a quiet area and try to catch up on the world of sports, but tonight, the quieter area was reserved for a special function and so I took a seat near enough to a wide-screen to at least watch the replays. In a chair to my right was a young man talking with a younger Air Force Major sitting directly across from him. I paid little attention to their conversation while reading the Stars & Stripes and watching replays from one of the bowl games from over the weekend.
At some point in their conversation, I heard the guy to my right say, “… yeah, I’ve thought about returning to Vietnam, just to see …” I thought about that for a minute, because based on his voice and the glimpse I had of him when they sat down, I knew he wasn’t old enough to have actually served in Vietnam. I hesitated for a moment, then turned to him and said, “Did I hear you say something about returning to Vietnam? I served in Vietnam and have recently thought about returning to see what things are like now.”
He turned to face me, reached out his right hand and strongly shook my hand and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You and others like you made my life possible.”
To be frank, it sort of shocked me emotionally, and I really could not say a word for fear of breaking down in tears. We chatted for a while and he told me about April, 1975 when his father, a Vietnamese Air Force Pilot, managed to get his family out of Vietnam as the city of Saigon fell to the communists. He thanked me over and over throughout the story of his life growing up in the U.S., of becoming an American Citizen, of joining the U.S. Army, and then retiring as a Colonel just a few years ago.
He said that it’s not often he gets to say thank you in person to Soldiers who served in Vietnam, and that he’s forever grateful for what we did to make it possible for him to have the life he’s had. And now, he’s here in Baghdad as a civilian, giving back.
So, fellow Soldiers, fellow Veterans, I pass on to you this “Thank You,” from Colonel Lee, U.S. Army (Retired), Naturalized US Citizen, born in Vietnam in 1961.
Be proud of your service – I’m proud to have served with you.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
After 40 years, give or take a couple of months, it sounded and felt good. Real good.