The River

Thursday, December 15, 2005


A VietNam Veteran: His Name Was Earl


His name was Earl. He spent his days in a wheel chair, hand propelled, sitting along the sidewalks of the seawall in a Victorian city along the coast. He kept all of his possessions in a shopping cart, while his valuables hung from the handles of his chair. I met him one night while walking on the beach. I walked past a hollowed out part of the rocky seawall, and something moved. It was Earl, and a blanket. After going across the street and returning with cups of coffee, I sat and listened while Earl talked. He was a Viet Nam veteran. He'd done three tours in Viet Nam; he was an honorable man, torn by his experiences and yet sure of himself and what he believed.

He had been told that he was fighting for freedom, the freedom of his country. But with every tour it seemed that he, and his country, were a little less free. He gave with honor; he fought because he had been told it was right. He fulfilled his duty to his country, but he sacrificed his duty to himself in the process.

Earl returned from the war to his family and to work in the oil industry. No matter whom he was with, he never felt whole. No matter what he did, he never felt free. He gave and gave, a generous man, but everything was taken and never replaced, and the aching grew more painful. No matter how hard he tried, the world seemed to take advantage of him, and he couldn't say no because he thought giving would be the way to redeem his actions in the hidden swamps of Viet Nam.

Earl had lived on the beach for ten years. The pain grew too great and he could no longer face those who demanded his life. He'd given all that he had.

I returned for many nights, and between sips of coffee and nibbles on dark chocolate, Earl told me his feelings and showed me his world.

I asked him one night if he thought Peace would ever come. Earl responded, "It's here, people just can't see it because of all the traffic lights."


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