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CHILLIN' WITH THE VETS!

 article about CHILLIN WITH THE VETS!

This article belongs to In Search of Laughs! column.





I know a place that has more heroes per
square inch than all the major league sports combined. I visit a West
Coast Veterans Hospital. (Why I visit is none of your damn beeswax.)





Emblazoned over the door is their motto: "SEE the cost of freedom HERE!"
Visitors will notice right away how many "sons of the melting pot" who
have paid those heavy costs are here, mostly at parade rest. The
characters playing in these quiet scenes only tell us the end of their
stories... the beginnings and middles... are left to for us ferret out.




I'm sure it's pretty much the same at any of the more than one hundred and eighty
health care facilities maintained by a grateful government for a
grateful nation. America's "cost of freedom" displays itself in many
disparate ways on these eternally peaceful grounds.




There are 55 million veterans currently in the care machine. The survivors of World War 2 are dying at the rate of over one thousand a week, but returnees from current conflicts will
easily swamp resources. 2006 fiscal thinking will not expand the system
fast enough to keep up with the newer demands. Our veterans are
diagnosed at three times the rate than the national average for diabetes. Treatment and education programs stand at the ready.




Yet,
these hardy and vocal souls have endured far worse than dismal funding
forecasts before, during, and after their various military services.
Wrongs done to them, if not real, then at least perceived
remain their own "Orders of the Day". For the vast majority of them,
the big lie they accepted was being promised "free medical" for life! Then
listening over and over again to Uncle Sam renege on that promise. It
can, will and often does drive semi-reasonable men certifiably bonkers!







I frequent one of three official, Government certified, and quite heavily patrolled smoking shacks.




(Cough-cough-wheeze)

It's been statistically proven smokers, as
a group, are dying faster than new suckers, -ahh- smokers are taking up
the deadly habit! Once again, civilian slackers have left a gap that some of these veterans still feel compelled to fill. We all know by now that smoking is very BAD.
Yet, some people still do it. Some of the more stubborn aren't scared
of anything as silly as " little ole Death " - these formerly armed
guys have much bigger battles to fight!






These
faithful, trained, and misunderstood souls constitute an angry
minority. They are the hardy and worldwide veterans of The U.S. Armed
Forces, and smoking is the very least of their damn problems!




(Cough-cough-wheeze-expletive deleted)




There are more different kinds of people here marching to the beats of different drummers than at a Ringo Starr revue! Most of the fellas will talk to you, some won't!

At the north side shack, inside a sixteen foot diameter circle, it's
bench seating only, highlighting a 3 foot wide sand ashtray.
Regulars call it the "guvmint gazebo" and all are welcome,
except for the dreaded Smoking Police!

It
amazes me to see mostly Caucasian, young men with guns yell at World
War 2, Korean, and Vietnam servicemen about cigarettes, and what areas
are strictly verboten! The young guys are brave, and are just following orders; I'll give 'em that. Most of the vets have at least 30 years worth
of " hurry up and wait" training from the military, which provides
ample ammunition in the form of sarcastic barbs. None of the Smoking
Police seem to even be 30 years old yet. It's not a fair fight. Chagrined the cigarette storm troopers slink away with their tails stuck between their legs. But, they will be back!




(Expletive deleted)




In the mess hall, ahem,
-ah-...the corporate sponsored food court, the older vets usually clump
together, sorted by their respective own wars. The ones that sit alone
and mumble to themselves always seem to be the first to catch and hold
my attention. Often I try to start up a conversation with some of them.
But, as they used to say in the South: " Don't stick your hand in that
snake-hole, unless you're ready to get bit!"




(Expletive deleted-cringe-second expletive deleted)




It turns out; the one warm up technique that always works is the simplest. I tell any veteran I meet: " Thanks, for what you did for our country! Thanks! My life wouldn't have been as free and fun, if it weren't for you!" When I say that, it's because I mean it from my heart. My mom's Dad, U.S. Army Major Van Frederick Houston, died in WW2 after Bataan and my Dad
worked for The Air Force in Vietnam. I'm not really a military brat,
but I have played with them my whole life. They're my peeps, so I have
an obvious love for America's retired military! Go Navy!




I
met a WW2 vet who fascinated me. Radioman 2nd class Coe Applegate (his
pals called him Bud) was aboard The USS Hornet (one of only four
aircraft carriers America had at the time) both times Abandon Ship was
ordered he went in to the water amid wreckage and was rescued! Badly
burned, he was treated in San Diego and discharged to live the rest of
his days in sunny California. His wife and daughter will attest to the
fact that he was the most honorable and yet stoic man they ever knew,
especially about his wartime years. Bud was nice to me, but other than
showing pride in The Navy and his beloved ship: The Hornet, he said he
didn't want to talk about it. " That was then, this is now!" Bud
sighed. For Bud, his now consisted of cooking like Wolfgang Puck, along
with growing and judging his
laudable roses, adoring his two cats, and
loving his Rita and Denise! He was proud of his service, but refused to
make a big deal about it. He made his last muster to join his shipmates
two years ago. We all still miss him. We all are still proud of him!




As the Greatest Generation
reports for final duty in our many revered cemeteries, let's honor them
by remembering to say thanks for answering the call to duty. Thanks for
being our point of the spear. Thanks for the sacrifices. Thanks for
refreshing the tree of liberty! Thank you for keeping the faith.




For everything they did:


The
next time you meet an American veteran, whether disgruntled or not, at
a Veteran's Hospital, or away...if it's not too much to ask, say " Thanks for what you did! "




It's the one sure way to still make them all smile! Thanks Bud!



(Cough-wheeze-expletive deleted-second expletive deleted)



(Cringe-third-fourth-fifth-sixth-seven-eighth expletive deleted).





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