My husband Patrick describes his first night as a helicopter medic in Viet Nam as being “like a bad acid trip.” Whatever the conflict—World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, or the Middle East—war is like nothing most of us can imagine in our worst nightmares. One particular incident stands out in my husband’s memory, when his helicopter team went to try to rescue some downed infantry.
“We were totally terrified,” he told me. “It was pitch black, and we were in the mountains. We had no radar…no relay stations nearby. And it was foggy.” It was very common in Viet Nam for aircraft to crash into mountains or trees. The pilots frequently developed vertigo so they didn’t know which way was up or down. “This particular night,” Patrick continued, “the ground troops were reporting that the injuries were very bad, and they were firing flares to show us the way. We were all afraid a flare would hit our chopper and ignite our fuel. We never got the rescue accomplished, and we even had trouble finding our own way back.” My husband was haunted that they were unable to save these soldiers.
Some years later, Patrick and I watched a historical documentary about military medics. Several veterans whose lives had been saved by medics were interviewed, among them many prominent U.S. citizens. These survivors talked about how grateful they were to the medics who saved their lives, allowing them to return to the United States, marry, have families, and live full lives, often in spite of many serious injuries. Patrick was mesmerized by the stories. I asked him, “Did you ever stop to think about all the people walking around who wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you?” He paused for a moment and then said, “I never looked at it that way.”
Life is hard and war is hell. This Memorial Day, stop and remember all the brave men and women who have helped to ensure our daily freedom. Better yet, thank some in person.
Father of Peace, world peace seems impossible sometimes. We pray for a day when we will all live in peace, in this life or the next. Amen