Cumberland Times-News

Columns

June 21, 2014

There are some debts you can never repay

— Today’s column will be relatively short, as my columns go, for reasons that should become apparent, and I thought long and hard before writing it.

For as much as I enjoy telling funny stories, talking about my family and chronicling the adventures of Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy at Gettysburg, I am otherwise reluctant to talk about myself.

In my line of work, I have run across no shortage of people who feel no such self-restraint. Just having to listen to them sometimes makes me uncomfortable.

My grandfather, father, Uncle Abe, Cousin Craig and I would say the same thing about such folks: They’re as full of (you know what) as they are of themselves.

But I have decided to make an exception, for reasons I hope you will understand.

This, as memory serves me, is what I recently told a room filled with people who have become an important part of my life:

——————

When was it that The Moving Wall came here? Fourteen or 15 years ago? (The Moving Wall is a one-third size replica of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington that travels with a devoted entourage to places like Cumberland. Both bear the names of more than 58,000 men and women who died in the Vietnam War or remain Missing In Action.)

I went to see it because I wanted to find Jim Bosley’s name.

Jim was one of my Keyser High School classmates of 1965 and my friend. Some of my buddies and I agree that we’d be proud to have had Jim as our son. That’s the type of man he was.

Jim was engaged to marry a girl who has been like my sister ever since we were old enough to walk.

By far, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to go see her the night we found out he had been killed. That’s the night I began to grow up.

When I found Jim’s name, I felt a lot of the same emotions that I’m feeling now, only tonight it’s different.

Back then, I was alone. Tonight, I am not alone, and that’s because of guys like you.

The only thing that could mean as much to me as this are the hospitality and friendship I have found here. This has made a difference in my life that at one time I never would have believed possible.

I owe you and all of the others a great deal. I hope that I have been able to repay at least some of it. God knows I have tried, and it’s a work that’s still in progress.

Thank you. Welcome Home.

——————

That’s what I said during a meeting of Cumberland Chapter 172, Vietnam Veterans of America, after President Bob Cook announced that I am now an honorary life member of the VVA.

This became possible because of a recent change in the national VVA’s policy. It wasn’t something I asked or applied for. The chapter nominated me, and I was told that few of these memberships have been granted.

Don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but I also am an honorary member of the Marine Corps League, whose pin I wear every day.

The only other thing I have to say about it is this:

It has been my privilege to meet two recipients of the Medal of Honor: Hershel “Woody” Williams, who was a U.S. Marine on Iwo Jima; and John Baca, who was an American soldier in Vietnam.

Both of them told me the same thing: “I don’t wear it for myself. I wear it for all of the others.”

Nor will I wear this for myself.

I will wear it for Jim Bosley, Craig Haines, Grady Cooke, Sam Umstot, Bobby Taylor, Wendell Brown, Richard Vincent, Carl Davis, Bill Gunter, Joe Sanders, Bobby Hartsock and 2.6 million other men and women who went there and, in many cases, didn’t come home.

Even though much of America once turned its back on those who did come home, they never turned their backs on America.

For too long a time, America collectively treated Vietnam Veterans in a way they did not deserve. I am thankful that many of them, and I, have lived long enough to see that attitude has changed.

To all of them (please say it with me): Welcome Home.

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