Cumberland Times-News

Columns

October 27, 2012

This was a color he’d never worn before

A new pin has been added to one of my ballcaps, of which I have many.

The door to my hall closet is covered with hats that my dad used to wear, and one shelf is crammed with my own, but there are only four that I wear with any regularity.

Two honor our POW/MIAs, a third is mine because I am an honorary member of the Marine Corps League, and the fourth bears the Vietnam Veterans of America symbol with the words “I SUPPORT.”

I wear the latter because of my association and friendship with the local VVA Chapter 172 and a number of its members — a relationship that has had a significant impact on my life.

Like me, this hat seen its better days ... but, like the 64-year-old body I inhabit, it has served me well, it still functions satisfactorily, and I’ve grown attached to it.

My VVA hat is the one with the pins. Before I became 1Sgt. Goldy of Battery C, First West Virginia Volunteer Artillery, I wore it when I went to Little Round Top with then-2Lt. Gary.

I told you the following story some time ago, but bear with me, and you will see why I’m repeating it.

A general from the Taiwan Army approached us with two of his aides and wanted to know the significance of the insignia on Gary’s uniform.

That done, the general asked me to explain the meanings of the pins on my VVA hat.

They include a Christian Cross, an American Flag, a depiction of the three-soldier statue near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the boots-rifle-helmet combination of a field burial (of which I’ve attended two), a feather upon which the POW/MIA symbol was painted by an American Indian, a pin that was given to me by a cousin who is retired from the FBI and another that says “Dinky Dau,” which is Vietnamese for “Crazy.” (My friends in the VVA say I am qualified to wear it.)

I said another pin that depicts the Twin Towers, with an American Flag and the words “United We Stand,” was given to me by a soldier who served during World War II with my high school’s Medal of Honor recipient.

When I said, “Medal of Honor,” the general’s eyes went wide open.

Then I pointed to a pin that consists of an empty pair of combat boots and an American Flag and told them the caption reads, “The Price Of Freedom Isn’t Free.”

I added, “But that is something you gentlemen already know.”

The general immediately came over and took my arm to have our picture taken. Add this to my life’s highlight film.

These pins and others I’ve added — a Marine Corps League pin and a U.S. Army pin that was given to me by a sergeant first class Army recruiter for reasons I won’t get into here — represent things that are important to me.

What my new pin means is of equal significance.

Its color is one I probably have not worn before. I once refused — strenuously — to wear a shirt of this color that my mother bought me. It was 1967, I was a junior in college, and guys didn’t wear that color.

This upset my mother, who cried a bit because it was a beautiful shirt. My dad — who was a wise man — just looked at me and shrugged. He understood where both Mom and I were coming from.

Times and one’s perceptions change.

Pro golfer Phil Mickelson took an extended leave of absence from the tour to be with his family after both his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer. One day during a tournament, every player on the course wore a pink shirt. Pink is the color of breast cancer awareness.

I hadn’t paid much attention to breast cancer until many years ago when I reported on a malpractice case brought by a woman the doctors didn’t give much chance to live, such was the hold that the disease had on her.

Even her pastor advised her not to torture herself with a treatment that probably wouldn’t save her.

She ignored him and beat the odds (90 percent that she would die), and we became friends. I saw her every now and then and often told her that she reaffirmed my faith in miracles.

Eventually, she became my girlfriend, and I went with her to the annual cancer walk and luminary. It was moving and emotional. We’ve parted romantic company, but nothing has changed the friendship we already had.

I’ve known other women who have had this disease — a disease so terrible, deadly and devastating to entire families that some women who have a family history of it actually have their breasts surgically removed as a preventative measure.

Another survivor was an old friend I was tempted to try to turn into a girlfriend, but she was moving far away, and I don’t do well with long-distance relationships. (That was the only factor in my decision.)

She recently returned to town with her fiance, with whom she was having a wonderful life. I told her that pleased me, but I doubt she could understand the sincerity with which I meant it.

Several years ago, a man who has been like my brother for all of our lives developed a cancer that has ravaged him.

He’s putting up a ferocious battle against it, and I give his wife credit for much of that. So does he. The degree of support, help and kindness she’s shown him is such that no man could ever repay it.

She’s a wonderful woman who is filled with love, warmth, good humor and faith, and who has far more strength and courage than her husband and I put together could muster on our best days. He could have found no one better and is wise enough to realize it.

Now, she is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, but the outlook is hopeful.

When I talk to him, I can tell how tired he is — but he also is a font of love, warmth, good humor and faith, all of which seem to be growing.

When I talk to her, it’s like there’s nothing wrong.

Some day, I hope to meet up once more with that general from Taiwan.

I want to tell him why my cap now bears a pink ribbon.

P.S.: Thanks to U.S. Army Capt. Westley Hartley (“Here are the reasons why this soldier serves,” Page 6E of today’s edition) for all that he does.

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