Hallways of courage

"I watch the people and they're
each weighing their private losses …"

Dateline: Inpatient Care

On the end of the bed, sat a bible.

On the end of the bed, sat a signed B.A.S.S. hat.

On the end of the bed, sat Lamar.

I looked at his bible when he handed it to me, and I smiled.

I looked at his autographed hat as he handed it to me, and I smiled.

I looked at his hand as he raised it to shake mine, and I smiled.

To Lamar, I only asked this, "What Era?"

To me, Lamar only said this, "Vietnam … 1968 …  Army … Infantry."

And in his eyes I saw a stone wall with 55,000 names etched into it, and I know it was what Lamar wanted me to see, because as I stood there looking down into his eyes, he told me.

"I was all over Vietnam, long time ago, long time ago, but I'm the lucky one, I'm here, I'm here but a bunch of my buddies are not."

And his eyes teared.

As did mine as I tried to say just this, "Thank you," but the words would not leave my throat, stuck they, in the back, could only mouth to Lamar a thank you, could only MOUTH IT -- my one chance to thank a hero, should have screamed it, couldn't even whisper it, all I could do was mouth it until I felt a gentle squeeze from his hand, and then he thanked me.

Thanked Me.

I only made it two rooms in to the Montgomery VA Hospital tour with the Bass Elite All-Stars.

Two rooms.  Lamar's room.

And I had to leave.

Walked out the front door and physically had to lean up against the parked B.A.S.S. truck.

I looked into Lamar's eyes and saw 55,000 names etched on the Vietnam Wall.

I looked in Lamar's eyes and saw the millions of Veterans being treated in VA Hospitals all over the United States.

I looked into Lamar's eyes and saw the young patients from Iraq.

I looked in Lamar's eyes and saw the young patients from Afghanistan.

I looked in Lamar's eyes and saw "D-Day."

Saw the trenches of Europe.

Saw the bridge at Lexington & Concord.

And in the heated Alabama still, I sagged against the B.A.S.S. truck and closed my eyes,and watched all those who have given so much for us,walk on by.

" … oh, I press my ear against the wall
I hear a helicopter, a bomb explode
I hear the echoes of a thousand souls … "

As I opened my eyes, before me I saw a row of American Flags.

Fifty flags. 

Flags for all of us.  For all those who carry those flags into battle, for all those who live under those flags.

And the flags just hung in the heated Alabama still.  But I needed a photo for this story so I walked down the wet grass hill to the straight line of 50 flags.

When I got there I turned to my right and started walking by the flag poles to get to the last one, where I was going to turn around and shoot all the flags, all the flags for all of us.

Midway down though I saw a man standing on the stairs of the VA hospital, a man with a T-shirt that said, "Dad," and a baseball cap that said, "Semper Fi."

And this man with a cane was smiling.

When I turned and followed his smile I saw that the flags, flags that only a second ago were just hanging in the still, were now coming alive.

One by one behind me.

Flag 1.

Flag 10.

Flag 33.

Coming alive in a breeze only they could feel.

I got one shot of it before flag 50 went back to rest.  One photo.

As I walked back up to the steps of the VA the man in the "dad" T-shirt and "Semper Fi" hat pointed his cane at the flags hanging in the heated Alabama still and said to me, "Did you see that, did you see that as you walked by each flag out there, each flag came to life, each flag stood at attention for you."

And as I looked in this man's eyes, I saw the eyes of Lamar.

And as I looked in this man's eyes, I saw the veteran who stood in the doorway of his hospital room, brown hospital PJ's, yellow sock slippers and a signed B.A.S.S. baseball cap tilted on his hat.

And to this man, I said this, "No sir, no sir … they stood at attention for you … "

As I was about to break eye contact with this man I saw in his eyes a sign that hung in the ceiling of one of the hospital hallways.

The sign that said, "COURAGE."

And with that, from me came this, " … thank you."

Said loud.

Said strong.

Said to this man, and to all in those in the hospital behind him.

But mainly, Lamar, if you read this,mainly, sir, to you.

" … and then one young face
He says to me
Please remember me."

Names On The Wall

Francesca Beghe


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