Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Rock Star

You never know where you'll have the week's most interesting conversation.

I've talked to some interesting people in the past few days, both on friendly and extremely hostile terms. People have refused to shake my hand, while other, more powerful people have said to call them if there's any problems.

However, the most moving exchange came around 10:30 pm with the guy who checks your receipt at Wal Mart. You know, the nondescript person who sits by the door to make sure you don't walk off with the whole store. Here's what happened, paraphrased.

I was zoned out, filled with glee at how such a giant corporation can make a line stand for twenty minutes and get away with it, when I noticed his hat and all the pins on it. Emblazoned across the front stained with sweat and probably more than a few tears were the words "Vietnam Vet."

"Those are a lot of medals" I said, and our conversation began. "Do you mind talking about it?" I asked him. "I like history."

He didn't seem to, and told me about his service. "Oh, I fought at the battle of ____ (Ed's note: I can't place the name. AND it's late, and I may have the numbers and facts slightly off. Like - maybe REALLY off.) We lost two hundred men in a very short period of time. If it weren't for the Korean regiment, a lot more of us would have died. See, they didn't believe in the Geneva convention or rules of engagement. So when the VC put a bunch of kids on the front line, we had to stop shooting. We were already being labeled back home as baby killers, so we had to stop. Then the Koreans came through, and lit everyone up. I probably wouldn't be here if they didn't do that."

I stood there and listened to him talk. I wondered how he was still standing after witnessing the slaughter of kids trying to kill you. What a head trip. I noticed a scar on his face. "Thank you, have a nice evening" he would say to the menagerie of people walking out the door.

"My boss messed up my paperwork, and I got drafted. I was the only certified teacher in Maryland to end up in 'Nam. I was on the front lines. When I came home, everyone treated me like dirt. All the rich people were making money hand over fist over there. We couldn't get decent jobs. They let the communists have the country, and then a just few years later, we're seeing shirts and jackets come to the U.S. with labels "Made in Vietnam"

"Was that hard?"

"Yes. Yes, it was hard. When I retired from administrative work in the school system, I started working here...It kinda keeps me busy. I had been in and out of the hospitals for years, as the stuff kept coming back. So the Vietnamese folks with their nail salon business right across from the front door...well, I couldn't do it. They had to move me over here by the exit. I don't speak it, but I know what it means."

"I'm sorry you got treated so bad. That's not fair."

"Well, there's a few local politicians that stick up for us vets. But not all of those guys do. See, the system is set up for a certain number of people to die. If you come back with an arm or leg blown off, well, they don't mind putting people out in Arlington (Cemetery.)"

I stood there looking at this guy, and when I shook his hand to thank him, I had tears in my eyes.

I'm a leftist. I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in most war, and certainly not the ones we're fighting. I don't think their reasons outweigh the human, economic, or mental cost. I don't think they're winnable, as if any war is. I know there's some soldiers who are heroes, and some that are not. They're people, and people are complicated. But when I stand there, and look at this old man with a scar on his face and his fuses completely blown, saying "Have a nice evening" to make sure an indifferent and apathetic nation hell bent on consuming imported garbage doesn't steal anything, I really have no idea how we sleep at night.

I went to an air show recently, and was amazed at how we've been sold a bill of goods in general, and a lot of overpriced planes in particular. I felt insulted, used, and more than a little scared that the runway seemed to turn into a chess board, and let me assure you, nobody there was a king, queen, rook, knight, or bishop.

I saw someone put a "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon on their gas tank lid on the car. It was almost as ironic as the WD-40 cans to support the troops in the auto parts store today.

It's my personal belief that the human psyche is not wired to withstand the horrors of war, no matter how tough you may be. I don't know how to fix it, and I don't know if it's even possible.

I wouldn't be so arrogant as to say I have a solution - but I do have something that I'd personally like to do. I got to thinking - if people sign up to work at Wal Mart to keep themselves busy, perhaps...perhaps they'd like to play guitar. I always say it's healing to play all your angst out,And it' a definitely something to lose yourself in.

I'm not quite sure logistically how I'll put it off, but I'd like to set up something where I could help combat vets learn music. I once gave an informal guitar lesson to an Iraqi vet a year older than me who was missing a leg, and thumb and index finger of his left hand. Try playing guitar like that, folks, and see how it works. It's extraordinarily hard.

You know, there's a silver star program. Some people get the bronze star.

How about The Rock Star program? I'm open to ideas. I'd like to do something, at least to keep these folks busy. Please let me know what you think.


- Josh


Wendy said...

Josh - this is such a powerful idea. It has nonprofit, grant funding written all over it. If you're not ready to start your own, I can guarantee there is a nonprofit out there who would partner with you on this and provide the 501c3 status for funding requests. Do it. (I can also sense a CD down the road with stories about this, and/or performed by vets in support of vet causes.)

Kayte said...

Josh, I LOVE your idea. I wish I could help. I could teach very basic piano to a vet. ~Kayte Christopher-Walker

Kayte said...

Josh, I LOVE your idea. Wish I could help. I could teach very basic piano to a vet. ~Kayte Christopher-Walker

Sherry said...

Josh, I think that's a frickin' AWESOME idea!!! I don't have any input as to logistics at the moment, but I'll keep an eye out and let you know if anything pops up. To quote the musical RENT, "the opposite of peace isn't war, it's creation!"

Anonymous said...

Josh - you are awesome. Thanks for the magnificent penship...

Merry ME said...

I have no ideas how you would go about this program but I've got to say it sounds like a winner. And if not guitars how about art or writing or sewing - something creative. It seems to me the soothing comes from the creating. Maybe it's realigning the brain that saw so much destruction.

I guess you could start by volunteering at a VA hospital. Or maybe a vet center. Or maybe a music store. Or maybe just walk up to the old guy and ask him what he thinks.

God bless you Josh. You have a big big heart. I hope your Rock Star program becomes a huge success.

faerian said...

O Josh - bless you for being open enough to really hear his story, for seeing the human heart in that mess of pain and inhumanity, bless him for being brave enough to offer you his story - i will do what i can to help - maybe ask him next time what he thinks of your idea? Do it with him, help him see that the world will not continue to turn its face from his anguish

AJ said...

Brother, I think if you have the time then it's a most excellent idea. Just giving them a feeling of accomplishment as well as something they would enjoy the rest of their lives would be...perfect.

Patricia J. Mosca said...

I am a friend of your MOM's and came here via her post...I just lost my husband, a very proud American who was also a Viet Nam vet...loving husband, step-father and Papa! I will say that the VA Administration did help my husband a great deal with the problems he had from serving in VN...and if you are serious about wanting to do the "ROCK STAR" might want to start by contacting your local VA or Veteran Outreach center and they would be able to direct you...I know personally that there are all sorts of programs set up for veterans, but most of them do not take advantage of them...BEST of LUCK to is an honorable thing you are looking to do!

Sue Scott said...

Awesome idea, Josh. And such a loving gift to give. To take your special gifts and give it to others. Let me know how this comes to fruition and how i/we can "sponsor" you and this program.