To be called A Veteran

Commentary by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

U.S. Army Soldiers conduct a patrol in Vietnam during the height of the Vietnam War. (Photo Courtesy of Department of Defense)
U.S. Army Soldiers conduct a patrol in Vietnam during the height of the Vietnam War. (Photo Courtesy of Department of Defense)

I have a friend named Cal. He is quick to smile, and quite dashing, even at 80. He’s one of those people that even after just one conversation you think, what an amazing person – I am so glad I met him! He just retired from his third career. He loves his God, he loves his wife and he loves his country – and all of this is evident in all that he does.

The funny thing about a lot of older veterans is that despite their fierce pride in the military and the men and women they served with, you might never know they are veterans. A very humble group of people – not quick to toot their own horn.

Cal’s first retirement was from the Army as a Chief Warrant Officer 3, after serving multiple tours in Vietnam. 

One night, after eating dinner, my husband and I got to share our own deployment stories with him and his wife. As it turned out, a lot of the things we remembered about our own deployments were pretty much the same, whether fighting in Vietnam or Iraq. Cal’s only response was “Sometimes, it’s good to talk to Army folk.”

And he is right. It is good to talk to Army folk. It’s good to talk to people who have gone through something that no one really gets unless they have done it themselves – it’s what truly makes us brothers and sisters in arms. 

My Uncle Terry is also a Vietnam veteran, he was a platoon leader and after only a few months in country, he was shot. Apparently, he almost died leading from the front and protecting his men. The doctors said that there was no logical explanation for him surviving- a real miracle.  The Marines awarded him the Silver Star. But all Uncle Terry ever told me was that being a Platoon Leader was the best job he ever had.

Then there is our friend Jack and his buddy Ed. I ate dinner with Jack and Ed the day Jack’s son, my husband’s best friend, was posthumously presented with the Distinguished Service Cross for tackling a suicide bomber and saving the lives of all of his Soldiers. 

I had the greatest time talking to Ed. He kept asking me questions about my time in the Army, and it never occurred to me to ask him much about himself. I found out later, Ed Freeman was a Medal of Honor recipient made famous in the movie “We Were Soldiers.” 

Ed and Jack flew together in Vietnam. On the same day that Ed disobeyed a direct order and flew into the battle of Ia Drang Valley, saving the lives of many Soldiers, Jack was on a mission elsewhere in the country.  

Not a word about this from either of them – both so humble.

People like Cal, Uncle Terry, Jack and Ed are who I think of when I think of Veterans. These are some of the best men I have ever known. They served their God, their family and their country with love in their hearts and no complaints. And when they think back on their military service – they remember fondly the phenomenal men and women they served alongside.

I’m not sure I will ever deserve to be lumped into the same category as them when my military career winds down, but I hope that our next generation of veterans will be able to look at me and say I lived up to this standard. If they do, then maybe I will have earned the title veteran.