A photograph of a young American soldier, holding a little Vietnamese girl in his arms, triggered a conversation and a very moving story that would change my life.
It was at a Veterans' Day celebration that I saw the photograph. The lady sitting next to the photograph informed me that the soldier in the photo, "Joe," served with her husband in the army. Both men were stationed in Vietnam and served as medics.
Just a few months ago, this lady did not know Joe even existed; much less know that he served in Vietnam. She continued to say that due to various medical issues, her husband, "Bob," had to be hospitalized recently. It was during a hospital visit that Bob shared that he had served in Vietnam. This was the first time after 23 years of marriage that this lady had heard her husband served in Vietnam.
Bob and Joe were in a helicopter pulling out wounded soldiers from "hot zones" in Vietnam. He managed to pull two wounded soldiers onto the chopper but as he was holding and pulling a third soldier, enemy fire hit the wounded soldier in the face and killed him. Bob was covered with that soldier's blood and pieces of his bone fragments pierced Bob's face.
He was never the same after that day. Bob was sent stateside and did not return. Instead of receiving a warm welcome from his friends and family, Bob was greeted with anger and harsh words, as many of our Vietnam soldiers were, at that time. Incredulously, Bob's father told him "you weren't in a real war and if you were half a man you would tie your bootstraps and get back out there."
As Bob was opening up to his loved ones, he felt the need to reconnect with his friend Joe.
Joe had suffered a stroke and could not meet with Bob but before he passed away he sent Bob a package. The package contained Bob's old medic bag that he had with him on that frightful day. Joe had kept Bob's medic bag all these years!
The world stood still as I listened to this lady tell Bob's story. I felt connected with this lady even though I had only met her a few minutes ago. I could not help but feel that she too felt connected with me as I sat there listening to her tell me Bob's story. Without thinking about it, I was truly and authentically present and enabling this lady to speak and share her husband’s story. I had no way of knowing that inquiring about a simple photograph would start such a bonding moment. I am sure there are many other moments such as this waiting to happen, we all just need to be aware and be authentically present or we will miss these life changing stories.
Julie Alban, MSN,MPH, RN-BC is a nurse at a VA outpatient clinic.