I saw a veteran yesterday whose eyes
were focused on the past. I wonder if he had fought on
land, in the air, or on the sea. I spoke to him, yet he
could not speak to me. Did he serve on the USS Arizona at
Pearl Harbor long ago? Or was he a marine who fought for
Iwo? Did he fly high in the sky in a B-17 or B-24 over
Germany's war-scared floor? Perhaps he wasn't there at
all. Maybe he came ashore on D-Day at Omaha Beach, and saw
his best friend killed, whom he could not reach!
Could it be at the Battle of the Bulge
he rode a tank to face the German foe? Since he cannot
speak, we may never know.
He may have been a Merchant Marine who
ferried war supplies to our troops on British shores.
If he were such, he saw much carnage
from the Wolfe-Pac U-Boats, which left few ships afloat.
He may have seen his ship-mates
floating on the foam, now a citizen of the Deep, never
ever to return home.
He could have been a Para-Trooper of
the 82nd or one-hundred first, who jumped into France from
a C-47 Gooney Bird just prior to D-Day's morn. If so, he
saw thousands of his kind fill the skies, and, no doubt,
heard their dying cries as they lay dying or wounded upon
the soil of France. (I wonder if France has forgotten
those cries of Para-Troopers, as they died!) It could be,
that on that day, fear took his voice away!
Could he have been a gunner on an
island, whose name he has forgot? (Now the name flashes
before me, but left again ere I could write it down...back
it now comes; Guadalcanal; that place we came ashore early
in the Pacific War.) Maybe he sailed down "The
Slot" in a Destroyer seeking out enemy ships in the
dark. Now Iron Bottom Sound could rob one of his voice, as
well as his life!
But he may have served as a gunner on a
famed PT Boat in the Pacific, though one cannot be
Could have been on Corrigador and
became a Prisoner of War. Now that could take away your
voice, leaving another choice, for I know some POW's who
were there and have heard them speak, and have seen their
stare---that same stare I saw in the eyes of an old
Veteran as he sat in his chair with wheels! Oh, America,
do you care about old veterans who sit in that strange
The distant look of those eyes I saw,
broke my heart and made me wish that some comfort I could
I wonder if this old Vet was a tail
gunner on a B-29, flying out of Saipan, or Tinian, for his
frame was small. Perhaps he saw a companion B-29 fall from
the sky, taking with it eleven men to die in the
yawning mouth of The Pacific, with no Super Dumbo to call
a sub in time. Gone are they, with the Mighty B-29, never
to land at Iwo Jima or Tinian. Perhaps he died inside that
day though his heart goes on pumping blood, and has
continued for all these years!
Or perhaps exploding flak over Kobe or
Tokyo took away his voice, though he's still a man.
How many Purple Hearts lie dusty in
some bedroom drawer, earned by him on some flying mission
from Saipan or close-by Tinian, of that War so long ago? I
I rather think that he could fire a .50
caliber in quick succession, at nine O'clock or at four.
Did he down a Zero, a Betty, or a Zeke.
This starry-eyed man could have been a gunner freak!
His machine gun, against The Rising
Sun, may have saved his crew and a Mighty B-29, which
survived to fly and fight again, from its place high up in
Could I have seen him as a younger man
on some strange-sounding Island land in the Blue Pacific?
I'll never know who he is or what he did in WWII, so long
ago, for he cannot talk, nor can he walk, for he looked
"at home" in that chair on wheels. I wonder just
how he feels and "if he feels" as he sits in
that chair on wheels?
He sleeps tonight in the desert City of
Albuquerque---or maybe he's awake like myself long before
the rising of the sun, thinking back to the war we won.
The nights are long and often lonely for old Vets of WWII,
at least for me; how about you?
But the War has been won---and at what
cost, for some Vets cannot talk and some cannot walk, and
some have not come home, and never shall, for they are
lost. America, count the cost!
(This was written after seeing the
old Vet at the VA in Albuquerque 10/1/02)
© C. Douglas Caffey
All Rights Reserved