The old veteran on a park bench in Wichita

A debt that will never be paid

War Memorial Wall with a Flag and Eagle and Honor Quotes

In Wichita we stay in the old Broadview hotel. It’s a Drury Inn now. Isn’t that a dreary name for something in the hospitality business? Oh well, somehow they made that strange name into a great place.

I was happy to see the temps were climbing toward the 60’s. I don’t like treadmills and I’m always happy to see us heading back toward perfect outside running weather. There not many things as good as a  long, slow trail run with my favorite music. I’ve got a pretty random playlist on Spotify. I’ve been trying to learn the words to “You Sexy Thing.” It’s a shame it didn’t come out until 1975 because I’m thinking Bruce Lee would have probably used it during killer karate training sessions.

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I left the hotel and ran along the river walk.  The sun was bright and the sky clear. I noticed a veterans memorial up on a hill so I cut through the grass to get a better look. Sitting on a bench in front of the memorial was an older guy with a black hat,  leather biker vest, and a pretty good sized gut. He had a cane propped up on the bench and certainly looked the part of veteran. He looked at me for a moment and without expression his eyes drifted back to the stone.

I began to slowly look though the names. One by one, I read them to myself.

I have a hard time explaining this. Stopping at the war memorials in random cities where I stay is something I’ve been doing for a long time. But, I’m noticing that the older I get, the more profound the silence is in those places. It’s a reverent and serious affair to me. In short, I am grateful.

Each day takes me farther away from the days and nights I spent with my brothers and sisters in the 82nd Airborne Division. I have started to pave over the rough spots and misery in my mind with ideas of grandeur. How could I not know at the time just how influential those memories would be?

I stand reading the names of service men and women that went away to war and I imagine them having a much harder time than I did. There were less conveniences during those years. I realize that, just like me, they had loved ones back home expecting their return. Holding their breath in anticipation of a certain outcome. Those loved ones were disappointed. Heartbroken. Lost.

Those names are there because the lives of those people came to an abrupt halt. Their lives were given for mine. Their lives so that I can go home to my children in a couple more days and work on my son’s treehouse. Hold my daughter until she falls asleep. Share thoughts from my week with my wife.

I am a grown man and tears fill my eyes. I walk forward and place my hand on the wall. I feel the sharp ridges of the names as I slide my palm across the cold bronze in an attempt to pay some type of respect to their perpetual courage. I’ve lost my concern for any onlookers.

I have been home from the war for twelve years. In those twelve years I have grown a family, a career, and made countless memories with friends. I am exceedingly aware of this gift of extra time. Time these men and women were denied. The older I get, the more debt I feel toward them. I’ve already had more than many of them.

In the end, I walk away through the grass carefully stepping over bricks with names.

I pass by the old man still sitting silently on the bench. I wonder if he feels the same way I do. He is lost in his thoughts and dealing with himself. How does he keep it together? Maybe that is a lesson I will learn farther down the road.

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