Jeff was busy playing with the Evening Sun’s new camera, recording the Veteran’s Day ceremony held in West Park in Norwich this Wednesday.
While he tinkered with the device at the front of the loosely gathered crowd I began to wander my way through looking for a familiar face. Instead one found me.
An older man wearing a worn navy brimmed hat extended his hand to me and introduced himself as someone I had briefly met on a previous occasion. He knew my father from the Oxford Veteran’s Home and joked on a recent column I had written poking fun at the real life horror fashion shows that appear in local court.
His wife apparently worked for a court system and she had also thrilled him with her own tales of pink flip flops and the stained stretch pants that appeared far too often before the judge’s bench.
I made an effort not to forget the man’s name and have decide against listing it here. It was a causal conversation we had and I appreciated his courtesy enough to extend the same. He was a retired 20 year veteran of the Navy.
We talked about the veteran’s home, his time in the military and the court before being interrupted in mid sentence by the VFW’s call to begin ceremonies. The man looked at me and nodded, neither of us wanted to continue with our conversation during the opening prayer and the singing of our national anthem. We understood this with out explanation. (Unlike some others in the crowd.)
Following the anthem the VFW’s presenter began talking about the challenge’s facing veterans and the local reductions in the services available to them. My acquaintance leaned near me and began explaining his own challenges in navigating the lack of resources in the system. An elderly woman, apparently familiar with the gentleman near us also added a few comments of her own contempt on the subject.
A few seconds later the gentlemen removed a pair of small metal plates from his pocket, at first I thought they were military dogtags but they seemed different. They were but I was right, they were just older dogtags from World War II.
He held the tags out to me and I inspected them closely. Cast into the metal on the front was the year 1942, a name, a religious preference and on the back imprinted into the metal was a thumb print. At first I thought how’d they do that? Then I thought morbidly of why.
In this moment while holding an artifact worn by solider in a time of high stakes world conflict I recalled a similar sensation from the day before. I had been on the phone with a father who had lost his son in Iraq, interviewing him for a Veterans Day tribute in the paper.
The gentleman went on to tell me he served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and that he had made two requests to serve in the country during that time, once to be assigned to a ship and another to a Navy office in Saigon. He was denied both times. He recalled being denied the office position and said he was grateful it worked out that way. A few months after having his request denied the office was bombed by a Viet Cong insurgent, killing a number of the personal working there.
Having the general ability to relate to those I often speak with I found myself at an unusual loss on how to comprehend the past week’s experiences. I still ponder the last few days in my mind and feel I haven’t quite grasped their true meaning yet.
I’m a long enthusiasts of history, politics and news but to stare at the topics of a remote world so personally before me created a connection to them I rarely feel. To read over the events in Afghanistan or Iraq I can’t help by consider that gentleman, his father’s dogtags or another father who spoke so proudly of his dead son.