• LETTERS FROM TOM BROWN

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    My brother-in-law, Tom Brown, and I didn’t have many personal conversations before the day I e-mailed him the YouTube video about Pilot Steve Scheibner’s September 11th story. That e-mail and video started a nine-month email conversation that was totally unexpected by both of us.

     

    When Tom married my sister, Jenn, they lived in Massachusetts and we lived in Ohio, so we didn’t see each other very often. Tom was a Vietnam Vet and didn’t share much about his experiences in the war. In his early sixties, he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer, a disease that is terminal. Perhaps it was the disease that inspired Tom to share some of his thoughts and experiences with me. Perhaps it was the casual email I sent to him about Steve Scheibner’s YouTube video. Either way, Tom’s willingness to share was a great blessing to me. I think it was a blessing to him, too.

     

    When I had lunch with Tom around Christmas 2012, we talked about sharing our email correspondence with others. I thought Tom’s openness with his experiences in Vietnam and afterwards could help people gain a better understanding of veterans. Tom thought some of the things I shared with him might be able to help other vets because it had helped him come to terms with some of his experiences. Tom would do anything to help another veteran. He was a generous, loving man, especially when it came to vets.

     

    With that in mind, I created this Web site so others could read about Tom’s experiences and our conversation. Some of things Tom saw during the war were horrific and he describes them, at times in detail. While this was not the majority of his writing, some may find his descriptions disturbing and prefer not to read on. But I think most people will learn a great deal from reading Tom’s letters. I know I did and I thank God for the opportunity to get to know Tom better. You can begin with the first e-mail by scrolling down this page.

     

    May God bless you,

     

    Tim Bete

    April 2014

    Thomas James Brown was born June 6, 1948 in Somerville, Mass. He enlisted with the US Army on January 30, 1968. From 1969 to 1970, Tom was in Vietnam serving as First Lieutenant, Executive Officer with the 5th Special Forces Unit, Special Forces “A” Team. It was during this time that Tom was promoted to the rank of Captain and continued to serve with Special Forces. During his service time, Tom earned the Bronze Star medal, the Army Commendation medal, Gallantry Cross with Battle Stars, Combat Infantry Badge, Parachute Badge, VN Jump Wings, Two Overseas bars, Vietnam Campaign medal with 60 Device, and the National Defense Service medal. His service continued at Fort Devens as Commander of Special Forces “A” Team from 1970 to 1972.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    I recently saw this video and thought of you. I’m not sure why I thought of you but it just reminded me of you somehow.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Monday, September 19, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    It took me a while to find the time to sit down and watch this video and I thank you so much for sharing it with me. I am honored that something in the video or the story itself somehow reminded you of me.

     

    The video reminded me of an experience I had in Vietnam one day as I was heading out on patrol from a Special Forces camp located near the Cambodian border. The camp was home to a 12-man Special Forces Team and around 400 Vietnamese and their families. Within the camp we had an Infirmary run by our Medic, we had a school for the children, we had pigs, chickens and vegetable gardens as well all of it surrounded by barbed wire and claymore mines.

     

    The day I was heading out on patrol was a beautiful (dry) sunny day. There were two Americans and about 40 Vietnamese soldiers. As an Officer I was required to position myself in the middle of the patrol about 20 men back from the soldier walking point. As we were walking down the road directly outside the camp heading into the jungle I felt my boot catch a trip wire attached to 2 claymore mines. Claymore mines were placed up and down this road every night to provide early warning of infiltration by Viet Cong. The procedure prior to going out on patrol was to disarm all claymore mines leading into camp. Someone forgot one!

     

    There were a couple of MIRACLES at work that day.

     

    First 20 members of this patrol walked with a certain cadence and rhythm that allowed them to walk over this trip wire without even noticing it.

     

    Second, as my boot touched the wire, though I was walking at a leisurely pace loaded down with about 80 lbs of gear my forward momentum came to an abrupt stop with the wire resting on my boot.

     

    Third, my Vietnamese radio man saw what had happened and grabbed me from behind pulling me backward and why my foot didn’t rise up as I fell backward providing the 5 lbs of pressure needed to break the connection to the claymore mines can only be explained as a miracle.

     

    This all happened in a matter of seconds.

     

    I was sitting in the seat. I should have died that day but as I have told others, God suspended the laws of physics so that I might live. I told my mother that it was her daily prayers and novenas for my safety that brought me home alive.

     

    I understand what Steve Scheibner was feeling. No one died in my place that day or on that patrol but God spared me and hopefully I have been a sufficient vehicle of good throughout my life that I might hear God say, “Well Done!”

     

    I will watch the video again, Tim, and I send you my love and gratitude for sending it to me. It was powerful.

     

    God’s Abundant Blessings to you Tim,

     

    Tom

    Monday, September 19, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    That’s an amazing story. I can’t imagine what it was like to be in Vietnam and I’m honored you’d share the story with me.

     

    A friend of mine used to teach a class about the History of Vietnam at the University of Dayton. After the class would get halfway through the text book he’d begin to invite veterans to the class to share their stories. It was powerful. It’s one thing to read about war and quite another to hear someone’s personal stories.

     

    Did you ever read the book or see the movie The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I only saw the movie but it really moved me. It’s a very interesting view of the healing that happens in heaven. The story is about a veteran, too.

     

    At work we just started a Veterans’ Rent Assistance Fund to help senior vets (55+) move into our low-income senior apartments. Because of Wright-Pat AFB in Dayton, we have a huge number of homeless vets in the area. It makes me so sad to see how we’ve turned our backs on those who served our country, especially when so many of the troubles the vets have started when they were at war.

     

    Here’s the story of the veteran who inspired us to start the program: John Lyons.

     

    One of our donors is a retired general (Ed Mechenbier) who flew many missions in Vietnam. His story, like so many others, is simply incredible.

     

    If you ever want to share more stories, I’d like to hear them. It’s experiences like yours that we should never forget and need to be told again and again.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    I work for St. Mary Development Corporation, a faith-based nonprofit in Dayton, Ohio, that creates affordable housing, especially for seniors. Many of our residents are veterans. You can read more here.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    Many thanks for the kind words and interest in my Vietnam story. And thank you for the links to the very inspirational stories of two of America’s real heroes. I have heard of the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven but have not read it. It’s on my list now.

     

    I have many stories I could tell but I will share some lighter fare with you for now.

     

    After the United States made the decision to go into Cambodia, our camp located in the middle of the jungle became a hotbed of activity with American Air and Ground Forces and Vietnamese Paratroopers coming and going on a regular basis. One day a Vietnamese Airborne Colonel and about 20 of his soldiers arrived at our camp wanting to spend some time with their Special Forces brothers.

     

    Special Forces was considered the black sheep of the Army in Vietnam. We really didn’t hold much to rules, regulations or protocol. For example we had a two-door refrigerator that we kept well stocked with beer. We had strict guidelines regarding when we could and couldn’t drink and how much we could drink and not everyone was allowed to drink at the same time. In all the time I was there I never saw anyone get intoxicated for to do so could cost you your life or the life of a buddy.

     

    Well, in the spirit of camaraderie, my Communications Sgt. came to me and asked if they could open the bar for our friends. I was the Executive Officer of this A-Team, the Commanding Officer was out on patrol so I was in command. I allowed the Sgt. to open the bar and I went into my hut to clean my rifle and write some letters.

     

    After a while my Communications Sgt. came to tell me that our Vietnamese Guest did not have the same tolerance as we did for alcohol and were getting drunk and he recommended we close the bar. I agreed with him and gave the order to close the bar and continued what I was doing. A few minutes later I heard my Communications Sgt call my name and ask if I would step out into the compound as there was a problem. What an understatement. When I stepped out of my hut and saw the scene before me I was in utter disbelief. My Communications Sgt. was standing in the middle of the compound and next to him was a Vietnamese Paratrooper pointing a 45-caliber pistol at his head threatening to shoot him if I did not reopen the bar. The Vietnamese Colonel and the rest of his soldiers had also gathered in the compound and were just standing there looking at me as if they had no control over this guy with the 45.

     

    One of our Medics was in the compound so I told him to go and get his M-16 and to aim it at the guy with the 45. I then asked our Interpreter to tell the Colonel that if his man shot my Communications Sgt. my Medic had orders to kill him. I then told the Colonel that this is the reason the bar was closed and would remain closed. I ordered him and his soldiers to leave the camp.

     

    Well the Colonel just looked at me for a few moments and then he started laughing hysterically. I did not take my eyes off of him and did not flinch. Eventually he ordered his man to lower his weapon and then they all left the camp.

     

    I truly believe my Guardian Angel was leading me through that situation as I did not experience a moment of fear or doubt the outcome. It really was one of those made-for-Hollywood scenes.

     

    In the next story, I was given another unexpected opportunity to lead and again my Commanding Officer was not in the camp when a helicopter landed inside our camp and out steps a 1-star General and his 2nd Lt. Aide. The General was newly appointed to his command (which was not Special Forces) and was making a tour of camps in his zone of operations. I took him on a tour of the camp, showing him the Infirmary, the School, the Command Bunker and the perimeter defenses. During the tour he had the opportunity to meet the rest of the Team. After the tour we met in the School at which time the General began to tell me what a disgrace me and my Team were and what a disservice we were to the United States Army and the Uniforms we wore.

     

    Now the General had clean and starched fatigues and you could see your face in the shine of his boots. Spend a couple of months in the hot moist jungle and mold grows on your boots and since you sleep in your clothes they look pretty ragged. I don’t know where I got the balls but I said to the General, “with all due respect sir, these men put their life on the line every single day for their Country and the Uniform they wear. These are the men who take the fight to the Viet Cong, bleed and die and for that they bring great credit to their Country, the United States Army and the Uniform they wear.”

     

    The General just looked at me and I fully expected him to say Lt. get on my Chopper I’m taking you back to face a Court Martial for insubordination to a General Officer. But what he actually did showed me that he deserved his Star. He said “Lt., you are right, my apology.” Then he summoned his Aide and they got on their Chopper and I never heard another word about the incident.

     

    The memories of a combat soldier stay with him up to the day he dies as often does the pain of those experiences. I thank you for wanting to hear a few of my stories. There are some that are so powerful they can’t be put on paper. Maybe we will have the opportunity to talk more about those stories in the future.

     

    God Bless you Tim.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    Amazing stories. I’d love to hear more in person.

     

    You really could write a book, especially with the powerful, painful stories.

     

    We have hundreds of homeless vets in Dayton. Many have substance abuse problems. They often get no respect from the community. But whenever I see a homeless vet I think, “I’d be drinking too if I went through what he did and had to relive it in my mind every day.”

     

    That’s why the painful stories are so important to share, especially from Vietnam vets. The stories remind the rest of us that many vets are living a daily hell that we can’t see. But if we heard more of the stories, we’d be more likely to reach out in compassion rather than distain.

     

    Telling the stories isn’t about the change in the vet telling them. It’s got to be painful to even think of some of the stories, let alone speak them. The power is that your stories change other people. Even the lighter stories you’ve told me. Somehow the harsh truth of the stories breaks down boundaries. It almost like the power of God’s love washes over the stories as they’re told, smothering them in his peace. That sounds strange as I write it but that’s the experience I have reading your stories.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Friday, September 23, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    My Dad was a combat veteran of WWII and the Korean War and he often would say to me everyone loves a soldier when there is a war but afterwards they are forgotten. I am so proud of the mission focus that both you and Jenn have for improving the life and dying experience of our veterans.

     

    What quality of purpose or character or love inspires and motivates men and women to risk their lives for liberty and freedom? I have told many that I did not volunteer to serve in Vietnam because my government needed me to. I volunteered at 19 because as I watched the news each night or read the newspapers and saw pictures of young boys badly wounded or in body bags, I thought to myself, I can make a difference, I can help some of these boys make it home alive. Interesting thought given that I was one of those boys myself. My purpose was that simple, I wanted to help my brothers. I had no interest in killing the so-called enemy. I had no political interest. When I tell people I fought for my Country what I am saying is that I fought for the idea of America, not the real estate.

     

    When you ask a veteran what they were fighting for, no matter what the war, they will tell you I was fighting for my buddy, the guy standing next to me. We marvel at tales of heroism under fire and often miss the point. Men — and yes women — risk their lives not for the killing of others but out of love for their buddies/friends. Many movies have tried to depict this kind of bond but the one that did the best job in my view is Band of Brothers. The bond between veterans is forever and those that embrace them as you and Jenn have share in that bond as well.

     

    Another story: One day I was privileged to go on patrol with my Commanding Officer, Captain William Walker, who was also my best friend. We spent many a night in the jungle talking about how we both would live in Georgia and work for his father-in-law who had just gotten into a promising business for a new concept in eye care called contact lenses. He was 10 years older than me and I love him like a brother. He gave me my first combat evaluation and gave me a rating of 96 out of 100. I told him I was pleased but surprised by such a high rating. He told me he rated the officer he saw in me which made me all the more determined to prove the potential the reality.

     

    Well on this patrol we were joined by a Vietnamese Army Captain and some of his soldiers. The Vietnamese Captain was given permission to lead the patrol — something that I took vocal offense to since it was an operation Captain Walker and I put together. As the morning wore on we came to a mountain which was fairly steep to ascend. We spent about 15 minutes at the top and headed down the other side. About an hour later we came to another steep mountain at which time I began to make some comments about the leadership of the Vietnamese Captain as we could reach our destination by going around the mountain. We get to the top and I have a sense of familiarity with the terrain so I take a map reading, which I did not do on the first mountain to see if we were moving the direction we had set at the start of the patrol. We headed back down the mountain and again came to another mountain. When we got to the top I took another map reading, went to Captain Walker with a head of steam and said this expletive, expletive, expletive guy has taken us up the same mountain three times today. Captain Walker started laughing and said it took you long enough to figure that out. I asked him what he found so funny. Captain Walker told me that I had shown disrespect to the Vietnamese Captain at the start of the patrol and he went to Captain Walker and asked for permission to teach me some manners and my Commanding Officer agreed. I turned to look at the Officer I had offended and he looked at me as if to say your training is over for today.

     

    I did not go to Georgia with Captain Walker as he was killed a few months later trying to save a downed/wounded helicopter pilot. When the copter was shot down one of the rotor blades bent over the pilot’s door. Captain Walker ran around to the other side of the copter which was on fire and while attempting to open the other door was killed when the copter’s rocket pod exploded. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor which was downgraded to the second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross. He was my friend and mentor and to this day I think of him and how blessed I was to walk in his company if only for a brief time.

     

    You are right Tim, the stories have meaning and power and I thank you for inviting me to share them.

     

    God Bless you.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Monday, September 26, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    Have you ever watched Gran Torino? Clink Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski:, a Koren War vet. He has many conversations with a young priest (Father Janovich).

     

    At one point Father Janovich says something like, “You were probably ordered to do a lot of horrible things.”

     

    Walt replies, “The thing that haunts a guy is the stuff he wasn’t ordered to do.”

     

    It’s one of my favorite movies because of the incredible religious symbolism in it.

     

    I think your experience of fighting for your buddies, not against an enemy is true of why we do most things in life. Theoretically, I understand the need to end hunger and poverty. But when I meet someone living in poverty, my focus goes directly to them and I forget the bigger picture. I think God wired us that way. While the sacrifice isn’t nearly as great as giving up your own life, I see a similar dedication in the people I know who have devoted their lives to the poor and given up greater financial gain. When I talk to them, the stories are always about individuals. It’s a beautiful thing but I suspect for veterans the experience is 1000 times stronger because of the life and death nature of each day.

     

    I’m going to watch Band of Brothers.

     

    Your story about the going up the mountain made me keep thinking of your age at the time. The uncertainty that a teenager/early twenties feels combined with being thrown into a combat situation must have been tough. The story would have made a great movie though!

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    I do remember the seeing the trailers for the movie Gran Torino. At the time I thought it was a violent movie about street gangs preying on an old guy but hearing your take on it motivates me to take a look at it.

     

    I told Jenn I was going to hire you as my agent because you see a book or movie in my stories! How wonderful would it be if someone did make a movie or write a book about our life and we got to see/read it before we died! I believe that everyone of us has a story to tell that is filled with meaning, inspiration, humor, drama, pathos and resurrection.

     

    I thought it might be helpful for me to share with you my journey to Vietnam. It started when I was about 5-years-old. My dad took me and my brother to a work detail of soldiers who were in the stockade for various infractions of Military Law. These were not real desperados, just young guys who had strayed. My dad had to talk to the solider guarding the detail and he left me and my brother with this group of soldiers. One of them asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up and without hesitation I said I wanted to be a “shoulder” like my dad. Well, the guy standing next to him started laughing at which point the soldier who asked me the question turned to him and told him to shut up “we are here because we screwed up, if the kid wants to be a soldier he should be.” He then turned to me and said your dad is a good man and if you want to be a soldier like him, you should.

     

    I grew up knowing that I would be a soldier. I watched every TV show/movie and read as many books as I could find in the library about WWI and WWII. When America’s involvement in Vietnam began during the Kennedy Presidency, I was still in high school and yet I found books written by French Soldiers who occupied parts of Vietnam in the 1950s and even a book or two written my American Advisors in the early 1960s.

     

    When I graduated from high school, I told my parents that I wanted to enlist. Both strongly objected and suggested that I go to college first and then join the Army. I took their advice but my heart was not in it and after a year of college I enlisted, completed basic training, then Army Intelligence training after which I received orders to go to the University of Texas for one year to study the language Thai. I had scored high on language testing in basic training and Asian languages were a top priority especially for someone just completing Army Intelligence Training.

     

    I really had zero desire to go back to college, so I asked my Commanding Officer what my options were. In addition to Asian language training, Ranger Training and Officer Training were the other top priorities. I was really interested in Ranger Training as I had read about their exploits in WWII but crass materialism got the better of me and I applied for Officer Candidate School because Officers got paid a lot more than enlisted men. Once my top-secret clearance paper work was completed, I was scheduled to sit before a board of five officers who would determine if I was officer material and a leader. The interview lasted a half hour at which time I was told I would be informed of my status.

     

    Apparently I didn’t do so well that I was approved nor so badly that I was denied entry into OCS. The board scheduled me for a second interview. The Major on the board came to me at the holding company I was working in and told me the board had never granted a second interview before. He told me he thought I would make a good officer but that I had to do a better job of selling myself. Well I had my second interview and as they say the rest is history. I passed the second interview and received orders to attend OCS at Fort Benning Georgia.

     

    When I got to Georgia, I was told that my top clearance paperwork had been misplaced and I that I would be assigned to a holding company until they could be found. The primary duties assigned to the personnel in this company were Guard Duty and KP and after two months of peeling potatoes and standing Guard Duty I went to the Captain in charge of personnel and told him I wanted orders to Vietnam. He told me that I had signed a contract to attend Officer Candidate School and that if I quit I would be Court Martialed for breach of contract. I told him I didn’t sign an agreement to pull KP and Guard Duty for two months with no end in sight.

     

    Well, I immediately thought of my dad and how it would be a sad day for him if I were Dishonorably Discharged. The Captain told me that the contract did allow me to quit honorably after 7 weeks if I wanted too. I told him I would be quitting after 7 weeks. Shortly after that meeting my Top Secret Clearance papers showed up and I was immediately sent to OCS training. After 4 weeks of training I wanted to be an officer so bad quitting never entered my mind. In my mind I quietly thanked the Captain who threatened to court martial me and to this day I am not sure if he was telling me the truth about breach of contract or in his way trying to motivate me to stay the course.

     

    So how many good souls did God place before me, going back to age five, that pointed me in the direction of my destiny and how many good souls did the same for me while I was in Vietnam or for that matter throughout my life? My blessings have been far greater than I can count.

     

    Thanks for listening, Tim.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    I was watching some movie with the kids a while ago. I can’t remember the name and it was pretty dumb but it did have one good line: “You are the hero in your life’s story.” Everyone’s life is a book or a movie. And we’re the subplots in everyone else’s lives.

     

    It’s incredible that you wanted to be a soldier from such a young age. I like the way God calls us to different things without letting us know everything they will entail. This is one of my favorite quotes:

     

    “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” — C.S. Lewis

     

    Did you still feel the same passion for being a soldier after you got to Vietnam? I wonder how your vision of it compared to what it actually was.

     

    We had a 59-year-old vet come to us for housing. He was homeless two years ago but got into a St. Vincent de Paul program that dried him out and got him back on his feet. There are a huge number of new housing vouchers for homeless vets. He asked his caseworker about them and they told him he didn’t qualify because he wasn’t homeless, he was in transitional housing. But if he wanted to go back to being homeless for two weeks he could get one. Damn bureaucracy.

     

    So we’re using our new Veterans’ Fund to move him into one of our apartments.

     

    Can you imagine asking someone to become homeless again?

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Monday, October 10, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    I guess no one ever accused bureaucracy of reflecting common sense. How wonderful that you and organizations like yours exist and hopefully always will to provide that much needed safety net for those who have absolutely nothing.

     

    Yes, I did feel that same passion for being a soldier after I arrived in Vietnam but it was not to last. Shortly after the death of my friend Captain Walker I was out on patrol and the events of that patrol changed my life and my attitude toward war forever.

     

    It was a beautiful day and this patrol had the feel of an outing in the woods. We were so relaxed we patrolled down the middle of a trail, a mortal sin tactically; we stopped around noon for lunch and our daily siesta. I gave the order to my Vietnamese counterpart to set up security on both ends of the trail that included creating a kill zone with claymore mines positioned on the ground and in the trees in a circular configuration. I had no idea that my life was about to change in an instant forever.

     

    I had just finished eating lunch when all hell broke loose with machine gun fire and claymores going off down the trail we had just come up. By the time I grabbed my rifle and raced down the trail it was over. As I approached the kill zone and saw what had happened in just a matter of seconds I became rooted to where I was standing. I had been in Vietnam for 10 months, been on I don’t know how many patrols, seen the graphic results of death and destruction of human beings but it all paled in comparison to what I was looking at and the knowledge that I was responsible came rushing into me with such force I couldn’t enter the kill zone.

     

    Of the three North Vietnamese soldiers killed that day, the body of one was intact, the second had half his skull removed and to this day I see the blood in the other half of his skull boiling like a pot of hot water and the third soldier had been decapitated. I was brought the personal effects and maps and equipment all of which had some value from a military intelligence perspective. One of the dead had a backpack full of pictures of his family, mother, father, and classmates.

     

    As I looked through the pictures this soldier became a human being to me and in that moment I lost all appetite for war. In my thoughts I saw his mother and knew she would never know what happened to her son, how he died, did he suffer, was he buried somewhere she could visit.

     

    I carried the guilt of this around we me for 30 years until I worked with a Shaman healer who helped me connect with this soldier’s spirit, and that of his mother, my mother and me. In that state we all were able to embrace each other with love and forgiveness.

     

    A footnote: it wasn’t until I started sharing my stories with you that I realized after 40 years that three soldiers died that day. I am not sure why but my singular focus for all those years had been on the soldier with the pictures. A week ago I realized that I had in fact left two other young men behind. In Special Forces our creed was that no one got left behind and though these were North Vietnamese and not American soldiers I had come to see them as my brothers and I was pained that I had forgotten them.

     

    As I meditated last week I held these two in my mind and I went back to that trail in Vietnam and as I stood there looking at them they both rose up in perfect bodies came over and embraced me as their brother and all was forgiven.

     

    I hadn’t intended to put this story in writing but I realized it can help us all understand how veterans can carry within them the trauma, pain and guilt of war up to the day they die. I pray these stories help you, Tim, in your work with the veterans your organization works so wonderfully to assist.

     

    God Bless You,

     

    Tom

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    I’ve been thinking about your email ever since you sent it to me. Reflecting on it, really.

     

    You definitely have to watch The 5 People You Meet in Heaven because what you wrote to me is so similar to one of the plot lines.

     

    I can’t imagine experiencing what you did and ever remotely being the same or having a day go by without thinking about it.

     

    It’s wonderful that you were able to “go back” to the other two men who were killed and get closure. I don’t see your story in a negative light though, as in “forgetting the other two.”

     

    For whatever reason, God wired us to focus on only one thing at a time. By focusing on the soldier with pictures you weren’t actively ignoring the other two. You were simple focusing on one, which is all that’s possible for humans.

     

    Your experience reminds me of a study I read. Here’s the summary of it…

     

    “Logic tells us that a bigger problem should get more attention. One person suffering from a disease is certainly bad, but a thousand afflicted individuals should motivate us far more. Research shows that our brains operate in an illogical and perhaps unexpected manner. Paul Slovic, a researcher at Decision Research, has demonstrating this by measuring the contribution levels from people shown pictures of starving children. Some subjects were shown a photo of a single starving child from Mali, others were shown a photo of two children. All were identified by name. The subjects shown two children donated 15% less than the single child subjects.”

     

    Isn’t that wild? It shows how strong a one-on-one connection can be, even with someone we don’t know.

     

    You gave the soldier with photos an incredible gift that day — a gift that was impossible to give to all three — your undivided attention. Perhaps that was your call and it was others’ calls to give that gift to the other two.

     

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. We’re only given so much time on Earth, so the most precious gift we can gift someone else is our undivided attention. I think God wired us that way so we’d be able to give undivided attention. With our penchant for multi-tasking, I doubt we’d ever give our undivided attention if we were really able to focus on 10 things at the same time.

     

    We’ll be in Massachusetts between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1. I hope we’re able to get together then to continue our conversation in person. Your stories are powerful and keep me reflecting every day.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    You are truly a Mystic in the making. I am continually impressed with your ability to discern the deeper spiritual message of my stories. I find myself praying that you be put in a position where you can use this gift to help other veterans. I wonder if you realize how much you have helped me after all these years to find meaning in those events and experiences. How wonderful of God to prepare you to be of such great service not only to me but to everyone you encounter for you are the light that reveals God’s mercy and love.

     

    I think we don’t always get God’s message nor his meaning at the time of delivery.

     

    One hot and muggy day, I was hacking my way through thick jungle when I hit a branch right above my head and what seemed like a million red fire ants came pouring down on my bare head. Well in under 10 seconds I stripped completely naked of all equipment and clothes. I had on occasion had an unpleasant encounter with these one-inch demons and the thought of so many all over me what just too much. Interestingly, I was the only one to have this encounter even though there were a number of my Vietnamese counterparts hacking away in front of me. In seconds I stripped myself of all that identified me as a warrior soldier. I was reduced to my basic human self, void of any thought of war or enemy, just me and my Creator.

     

    Another somewhat comical story occurred one day when I was in a jeep driving back to my camp. I had just picked up my replacement as I was going home in four weeks. The driver of the jeep was a Sgt. on my team and the road was laced with water-filled craters from mortars. For the first time in a long time both me and my fatigues were fairly clean but my driver kept going through these craters and I kept getting splattered with mud. I told him to drive around the craters and what does he do but drive through the next one we come to. I ordered him to pull over and told him I was going to drive the rest of the way.

     

    I was doing just fine as we came up to the next crater and I turned the wheel to go around it. I was going to stay clean. Well the wheels hydroplaned on the wet, slippery mud, I lost control of the jeep and it started to flip over in what seemed to me to be very slow motion. My Sgt. and my replacement were able to jump free but as the jeep was rolling to the left I was unable to get out and the jeep flipped over pinning my shoulder underneath. There was a Vietnamese soldier nearby who slowly walks over to check us out. He was smoking a cigarette and I could smell the gasoline pouring out of the jeep’s gas tank! After a few choice expletives from me the cigarette was extinguished. Fortunately, my Sgt., my replacement and the Vietnamese soldier were able to lift the jeep high enough that I was able to crawl out. In the end driving through a few puddles turned out to be less painful than losing my patience.

     

    I look forward to seeing you in December Tim and let’s make the time to get together.

     

    Your brother,

     

    Tom

    Friday, October 28, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    I’m no mystic. Not even one in training.

     

    Do you remember the Baltimore Catechism? At the beginning is the question: “Why did God make us?”

     

    The answer is “To know, love and serve God in this world in order to be happy with Him in the next life.”

     

    I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. The transition between the first part of the statement (…in this world) and the second part (… in the next life) is death. It’s almost like saying that the purpose of being born is to die. Without death, we can’t fulfill our ultimate purpose. We do the first half (live on earth for a short time) and then we do the second half (live with God for eternity.) The first half is the blink of en eye but we can’t see that because we’re living in it. Rarely do focus on the second half, which goes on forever.

     

    Sure people say they believe in heaven but how many of us live today like we believe in heaven? I often don’t. One of the biggest fears people have is death. We fear the transition from this world to the next. We cling to this world like heaven will be a downgrade from earth. God wants us to embrace this world and the next. While he doesn’t want us to wish death on ourselves, he still wants us to long to be with him in Heaven. I think most people have that longing but try to fulfill the longing with things from this world rather than focusing on the next.

     

    I share this because it occurs to me that fighting in a war must really mess with the natural relation of earth and heaven that God intended. When you’re at war, I suspect (and I may be totally wrong) that you are quickly trained to fear the loss of life every minute of the day. Your purpose is to stay alive and often take the lives of others. I can’t imagine the impact this must have day after day, week after week.

     

    A friend recently sent me something about suffering from the author Alice von Hildebrand. Hildebrand says there are two types of suffering. The “good” kind of suffering (suffering offered to God in faith) brings about healing, conversion, gratitude for our merciful God. There is also “bad” suffering” (suffering inflicted by someone who is trying to hurt you) like being in a bad marriage with an unfaithful spouse or being at war. Hildebrand says that “bad” suffering hurts our being because someone else has inflicted it on us. But some suffering (like suffering with someone who is dying) is a suffering endured together, with God, for an eternal good. This suffering is made bearable by the love shared while enduring it.

     

    From your stories about Vietnam, I think you experienced both types of suffering. You had suffering inflicted on you by others but you also suffered with the brothers in arms who you loved. But in the end, there was probably more of the former than the latter.

     

    I share this rather long reflection because it makes me think of vets. While they were protecting our freedoms, many learned to fear death in a way that makes it difficult for them to make the transition from this world to the next. I read the Doonesbury comic and especially appreciate the story lines about post-traumatic stress for vets. How can we expect vets to see death as a good and natural transition when they’ve been taught to fear it because it might be around any corner? Vets have often been deprived of the ability to focus on the ultimate purpose of their lives because they’ve been conditioned to fear it. In the case of post-traumatic stress, you might say they’ve been taught to panic when thinking about getting to Heaven.

     

    My prayer for all vets is that they might feel and be healed by the overpowering love of God — a love that can heal and erase the pains of the past, and the memories brought to the present. My prayer for vets is that on their deathbeds they might welcome heaven with joy and open arms rather than die in fear.

     

    I may be way off base with all of this but these are the things I’ve been thinking about lately. I wouldn’t be thinking these things if you weren’t sharing your stories with me. Thank you for that.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    Like you, I have spent many a reflective moment thinking about this life and the next and can honestly tell you I look forward to the next with joyful anticipation. I imagine myself being embraced by Jesus the way you and I might embrace but only better.

     

    I knew a level of fear in Vietnam that most people can only imagine but strange as it might sound dying was never foremost on my mind. The men I served with didn’t think they were going to die as evidenced by the discussions around what they planned to do when they got home. Most veterans will tell you that they didn’t experience fear during combat and that was true for me. When the shooting started my training kicked in and I literally went on automatic pilot until the shooting stopped. Fear is a funny thing. After a time fear became my friend. When I experienced the slightest level of fear I knew I was being guided to be extra alert, pay attention to the signs around me. I came to welcome its presence as it kept me sharp.

     

    The time I felt the greatest level of fear was not during actual combat. On one patrol I was heading back to camp and patrolling through a rubber plantation which always was a pleasant change from the dense jungle as the trees were neatly spaced apart and there was always a breeze. My patrol came upon a reinforced bunker complex. I mean this was a complex of dug-in bunkers fortified with 8″ railroad ties with shooting ports at ground level and it ran a good 100 feet in length. This complex was impossible to detect from a distance meaning you were pretty much toast by the time you realized the enemy was in front of you. Well through the grace of God, this complex was empty.

     

    Two things filled me with fear right then. One I didn’t see this complex until I was on top of it and two the c-ration cans left behind still had liquid in them meaning that the complex had just recently been abandoned, perhaps within an hour or two. No shots were exchanged there were no casualties, yet the thought of what might have been filled me with a great level of fear.

     

    You are right, death is our greatest fear and I suppose that on some level fear of death was part of my sub-consciousness but it wasn’t a conscious presence in my daily thoughts.

     

    As a soldier I wasn’t taught to fear death rather I was taught to stay alive by working as part of a well trained unit whether that be just a dozen men on and A-team or a company of 200 men. I was fortunate to be part of an elite, highly trained Special Forces Team some of whom had multiple tours in Vietnam behind them to guide us first timers so my experience and my relationship with fear and death is by no means representative of all who served.

     

    Jenn has shared with me that the veterans she has worked with in hospice who were afraid of death were prisoners of deep guilt at what they had done during their war experience and in not being able to forgive themselves. They can’t believe God will forgive them either. It’s impossible to forget those memories and in many cases impossible to forgive yourself to the degree that you can look forward with joyful anticipation to a loving hug from Jesus. I pray that you have the opportunity to help other veterans see a more expanded perspective of their war experience in the way that you have helped me.

     

    I am grateful for you prayer for all veterans on their deathbed, Tim. I would be grateful if you said it for me.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    I’ve been thinking about your last email for many weeks now. Your words reminded me of Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meeting.

     

    In the book, Frankl says that as long as the prisoners in his concentration camp had something to live for outside the camp, they survived. It didn’t matter what the something was — it could be a person, seeing a sight again or anything else. But when someone didn’t have that outside hope, they withered away or committed suicide. It sounds like the men with whom you fought had that same external focus that kept them moving forward.

     

    The thing that struck me most about your email was the sentence, “I was taught to stay alive by working as part of a well trained unit whether that be just a dozen men on and A-team or a company of 200 men.”

     

    What does a vet do who no longer has that group to help him “stay alive” after he’s back in civilian life after the war? I don’t know the answer but think it must be terribly difficult both in everyday life and in facing death for a vet. Maybe that’s why the most effective groups to help vets are made up of and led by other vets. Who else could understand?

     

    I met with a group of VA social workers in Dayton this week. We’re helping about 15 vets move into one of our buildings. Four are in already. One who is moving in is blind and lives off $250 a month. I’ve never met a more grateful bunch of men. Their thankfulness for a home is inspiring. They want to know how they can help others in return. One vet didn’t even care what apartment he had. He told us, “You pick one for me.” He was just thrilled to have a home. It’s an incredible blessing for me to work with these men.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    I remain inspired by your work with veterans and the depth of love that you have for those who gave so much and ask for so little in return. I want you to know that this Thanksgiving I express my gratitude to God for your presence in my life and your words and works of healing for me and all the veterans that you minister to.

     

    Blessings to you Tim.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Friday, December 16, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    We’ll be in Greenfield on Dec. 27 through Jan. 1. I’ve love to get together with you. I think Mom and Dad are trying to get everyone together at some point and we have a party to go to on Dec. 30 but other than that my schedule’s open.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

     

    Tom,

     

    Have you ever been to the Vietnam Memorial to find the name of your friend, Captain William Walker? I found this listing at the Memorial’s Web site database:

     

    WILLIAM WAYMAN WALKER

    CAPT – O3 – Army – Reserve

    His tour began on Nov 14, 1969

    Casualty was on Aug 8, 1970

    In PHUOC LONG, SOUTH VIETNAM

    HOSTILE, HELICOPTER – NONCREW

    AIR LOSS, CRASH ON LAND

    Body was recovered

    Panel 08W – Line 95

     

    Is this your friend? If I ever get to Washington, I’d like find his name.

     

    You’re always in my prayers.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Tom rode in the Army Jeep that Capt. Walker is leaning against in the photo. To read more about him, click here.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

     

    Tom,

     

    It was great seeing you last week and having lunch. I brought the Special Forces mug to work and put it on my desk.

     

    When I was filling our rental car with gas at the airport, there was a Vietnam vet helping people with the pumps. I’m not sure if he actually worked there or whether he was just hanging out hoping for tips, but I had a nice chat with him. He was very upbeat.

     

    When we had lunch, I forgot to ask if the William Wayman Walker I found was your friend. Was he?

     

    You gave me many new things to reflect upon. One of them is how happy I was to hear that you wanted to be buried from the Church. I’ve always found Catholic funerals to be powerful because they tie together our lives from Baptism to death. Death really puts life in perspective. Funerals leave me with such a sense of hope — like those who go before us are just blazing the trail for the rest of us. When my good friend Larry Filiault died a year ago, I remember telling him to “lead the way to Heaven” during my last visit with him.

     

    I mentioned during lunch how much my mind and soul turn to the love of God lately. Everything flows from that love. I think if we all focused on the love of God we’d discover a lot more peace in the world and within each of us.

     

    Two of the places I come in contact with God’s love in a powerful way are Confession and the Eucharist. I wonder since you’ve decided to be buried from the Church if you’ve thought about Confession and Mass? I can’t think of better ways to encounter God’s love, mercy and peace. I don’t know why God chose to use those kind of visible signs to transfer His grace but I’m sure glad he did.

     

    Please don’t feel like you have to respond to my e-mails if you’re not feeling up to it. I’ll share some other thoughts in a few days.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Friday, January 6, 2012

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    It was for me a wonderful time of sharing with you as well, one that I will remember always. Yes, William Wayman Walker was my friend who died trying to save a downed helicopter pilot. Thank you for making that connection. I am feeling a little fatigued so my notes are short right now but hope to connect with you again very soon, my friend.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Saturday, April 14, 2012

     

    Hi Tom!

     

    I miss hearing from you.

     

    I help lead a high school youth group. We discussed the video below a few weeks ago. It made me think of you because of our discussion of dying and heaven. Ben Breedlove was an amazing young man.

     

    We’ll be in Greenfield in early July. I’d love to get together for lunch again, if you’re free.

     

    You’re in my prayers every day.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Email from Jenn to Tom

     

    Hi Tom,

     

    Captain Walker keeps coming to me, I am unsure what he wants. He seems to have led me to this, his widow, Lucy Freeland is interviewed in this article. It is from the Washington DC times, from some reason I think Captain Walker wants you to read it.

     

    Jenn

     

    Washington Times article,

    Unsung casualties: War widows tell of haunting grief, that includes Lucy Freeland.

    Sunday, April 15, 2012

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    I have been thinking about you lately and missing our connection as well. And how interesting that today I received this email from Jenn about Captain Walker?

     

    I am heading out the door so I haven’t had time to look at the video yet but will and will send you another email later.

     

    Thanks for reaching out to me Tim.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Monday, April 16, 2012

     

    Hi again Tim,

     

    What a powerful video. Thank you for sharing this with me and I will certainly share it with many others. The Presence of God permeates not only Ben’s presence on the screen but his sister’s as well. Like Ben I have experienced a Peace that I can’t explain to others and yet like Ben it ebbs and flows never quite anchoring fully into this dimension. Throughout my journey as painful as it has been on many levels I have been enfolded surrounded with Love and Grace. I am floating in an Ocean of Love and I know with certainty it carries me to the place that Ben now experiences on a never-ending basis. You, Tim are very much a part of that wonderful Love that enfolds me and my gratitude for you in my life knows no boundaries. Looking forward to lunch when you come down in July

     

    Much Love to you Tim

     

    Tom

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

     

    Tom,

     

    What an incredible gift for you to have! With all the struggles a serious illness brings, being surrounded with love and grace must bring such peace to your life. The certainty you have about your final destination is beautiful. You should share it with anyone who will listen.

     

    Knowing where you’re going makes the journey meaningful and the hardships bearable.

     

    It reminds me of Philippians 1:21-23:

    “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

     

    I think in the depth of our souls, we each feel that need to be with God forever.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    The reading from Philippians is so appropriate for me at this time, thank you. As beautiful as life on Earth can be at times it is but a shadow of what awaits each of us for truly none of us remain lost in darnkess indefinitely. The beauty of it is that we all eventually reach a point of total fatigue at trying to hold on to the illusion of what we call reality that in that moment of surrender the door to Christ Consciousness opens just enough for God to retrieve us and make us once again One with our own Beloved Christ Self. Once this awareness sets in it becomes quite a challenge to be content remaining in the muck and mire of human consciousness.

     

    Love and Light to you Tim

     

    Tom

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

     

    Tom,

     

    I’ve often wondered why God created our lives the way he did. Why do we start as a baby and grow into an adult, only to lose strength at the end and eventually die? Certainly there’s are an endless variety of ways God could has formed our lives.

     

    I think you answered that question when you wrote, “we all eventually reach a point of total fatigue at trying to hold on to the illusion of what we call reality that in that moment of surrender the door to Christ Consciousness opens just enough for God to retrieve us…”

     

    God’s gives us old age and illness to help us let go. Some people look at it as an awful thing, as if life were the ultimate goal and they are losing the most important thing. But God asks us to let go of this life to move to an even better life — an eternal life of joy. I suspect “total fatigue” can be a gift when it helps prepares us to move toward Heaven.

     

    Perhaps the greatest gift is being able to see this, as you have. Your knowledge fills you with joy. Without that knowledge, you might be filled with fear.

     

    In 1 Peter it talks about heaven: “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls.

     

    Heaven is “indescribable and glorious joy!” I pray that more people will see heaven and run to it.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Sunday, May 27, 2012

     

    Hi Tom!

     

    It is a great weekend to remember those who gave their lives for their country. We’ll go to Mass tomorrow morning to pray for all veterans.

     

    How have you been? Are you still working the same amount of time? Did that apartment ever open for you to move in?

     

    Last month I attended the re-dedication of the Protestant Chapel on the Dayton VA Medical Center Campus. In 1865, Dayton was one of three locations where President Lincoln created a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The two others were in Milwaukee, Wis., and Togus, Maine.

     

    Here’s what a Dayton history book said about the campus:

     

    “In 1867, Chaplain T. B. Van Horn was commissioned by Secretary of War Stanton to lay out plans for the new institution. Things began to look different with the arrival of the chaplain. By 1868, the general building plan had almost been completed. One of the first permanent structures to be erected was the National Asylum Church, now known as the Protestant Chapel. This building is still in use. The home expanded rapidly from then on. Chaplain Van Horn carried out the objectives of the Board of Managers in providing all the comforts of a home—chapels for religious services, halls for concerts and lectures, miscellaneous entertainment, a hospital with experienced medics and nurses, library and reading rooms, school rooms, post offices, telegraph office, stores, and workshops to learn trades for employment. The purpose was to inspire these individuals with a sense of manly independence.”

     

    As I sat in the chapel, it was incredible to think that Civil war veterans had built and used the chapel, which is still in use today both for Protestant and Catholic services.

     

    President Lincoln created the VA Campus to meet all the needs of veterans. How different is that from today when it’s difficult for returning veterans to have even some of their needs met?

     

    Are you free on July 5 to get together for lunch? We’ll be on Greenfield for a few days before going to Maine.

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Sunday, May 27, 2012

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    I found myself thinking of you this weekend and wanted to acknowledge how grateful I am to you for the support, understanding and the wisdom you have given me and all those veterans you minister to in your work. I believe we all ascend into that vibration we call Heaven on works of service to others. There are many who will precede you into that vibration of bliss who will not forget you and will when the time is right extend their hand down to meet yours lifting you up and in to the wonderful vibration of pure bliss.

     

    In remembrance of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me,

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012

     

    Happy birthday Tom! I hope you’re having a great day.

     

    I ran across this quote the other day: “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”

     

    Pope Paul VI said that.

     

    I’m trying to live my life more that way. It’s difficult when you get so busy that you no longer savor moments of each day.

     

    Savor your birthday!

     

    love,

     

    Tim

    Thursday, June 7, 2012

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    Had a birthday filled with light and love. Thank you for remembering me. I heard someone say the other day that when we are born we are given so many moments and that every moment is like a withdrawal from our Universal Bank. Why not set the intention to spend those moments on only that which has value. Yes day-to-day life is full of distractions. What I have started to

    do when my mind-thoughts takes me into the negative emotional soup is I say “I don’t need to have that thought and feeling” and I change it by saying I choose Peace, I choose Peace, I choose Peace. Sometimes I have to say it more than three times! What a great time to be on this Earth!

     

    Love and Blessings to you Tim

     

    Tom

    Friday, June 29, 2012

    In response to hearing that I had been appointed President of St. Mary Development Corp.

     

    Hi Tim,

     

    Clearly the Light of Christ is in you and all around you. How wonderful for all of us who love you to see you anointed by God to wear the robes of leadership in His name. You have dedicated your life in selfless mighty service to so many in need, myself included, that notice of this honor is not only fitting but necessary for you to take the message to a larger audience that we certainly are our brother’s keeper when he is not able to keep for himself those basic of human/divine rights.

     

    I am proud of you Tim and honored to have your friendship.

     

    Love,

     

    Tom

    Epilogue

     

    Tom and I were going to meet for lunch when I was in Greenfield in July 2012 but he never showed up. His cancer and treatments had left him tired and forgetful. He was much weaker. Tom was unable to reply to my emails after that and I wasn’t able to see him again. I received updates from Jenn and other family members during the rest of 2012 and 2013. My e-mail conversations with Tom ended almost as abruptly as they had started.

     

    In the first week of April 2014, I was on a business trip to Washington DC. While I was there, I visited the Vietnam War Memorial to find Captain Walker’s name for Tom. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I experienced at the Memorial. I cried both for all those who died as well as all those, like Tom, who lived. It was an experience I will never forget.

     

    I emailed the photos to Jenn, who printed them out for Tom. Tom was quickly reaching the end of his life. Tom smiled when he saw the photos. Jenn knelt at his bedside and told Tom that I loved him. Tom said, “I love that boy. He loves veterans.”

     

    Jenn told me it wouldn’t be long before Tom died and I sent one last email to him, through Jenn. I wrote, ” If you think it would bring comfort to Tom, please share the following Psalm with Tom. Psalm 121 was a blessing given to a soldier going on a campaign or someone embarking on a formidable journey. Tom has been on many formidable journeys in his life. As he prepares for this final one, I hope he will see that it has been the Lord who has brought him through all the journeys in his life and he can rely on the Lord to lead him through this final one, too. While I may not get to see Tom again before he dies, please let him know it will seem like only a short time before before I see him again in Heaven.”

     

    At this point, Tom wasn’t talking much and could not take stimulation. Jenn offered to read the email to Tom but he said he couldn’t take it in. Jenn told him, “Tim says he loves you and will meet you in heaven.” Tom told Jenn he will be waiting for me.

     

    Tom died peacefully on April 15, 2014. He was 65.

     

    Before he died, Tom told a hospice worker that he had suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for his entire life. He always tried to keep it well hidden. He also shared that he experienced a lot of hatred when he returned from Vietnam. Finally, he shared that he had significant exposure to Agent Orange. There were many things that Tom needed to share but had difficulty verbalizing.

     

    While Tom wasn’t able to read Psalm 121 before he died, I share it here because it was the last email I sent to him. I know Tom died peacefully because he believed that the Lord guarded his coming and his going both now and forever.

     

    Psalm 121

    I raise my eyes toward the mountains.

    From whence shall come my help?

     

    My help comes from the LORD,

    the maker of heaven and earth.

    He will not allow your foot to slip;

    or your guardian to sleep.

     

    Behold, the guardian of Israel

    never slumbers nor sleeps.

     

    The LORD is your guardian;

    the LORD is your shade

    at your right hand.

     

    By day the sun will not strike you,

    nor the moon by night.

     

    The LORD will guard you from all evil;

    he will guard your soul.

     

    The LORD will guard your coming and going

    both now and forever.

     

     

    On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, Tom received a service with full Military Honors at the Massachusetts Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, in Agawam, Mass. It was especially moving when the American plag was presented to Tom’s oldest daughter with the words, “This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

     

    When I compiled all of the above emails, there were a few I was unable to find. I may have mistakenly deleted them. One was about a conversation Tom and I had regarding the soldiers at Jesus’ crucifixion and the words Jesus spoke to them. I wrote the poem, below, about that conversation. I think it’s a fitting way to end this tribute to Tom and all veterans.

     

    A soldier’s peace

    “For I too am a person subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me.

    And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes.”

    — The Centurion in Matthew 8:9

     

    “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’”

    — Luke 23:33

     

    Perhaps a day no different from many others

    Criminals to be punished; work to be done without thought

    Each condemed like the rest, by authority unseen

     

    Why then these nine words of forgiveness spoken

    To those who knew not they needed forgiveness

    Who were only going when told to go

    And coming when told to come?

     

    Words of forgiveness for soldiers througout time

    In every war, just or unjust

    In every country where battles rage

    In every heart of those who fought

     

    Words spoken as a gift for all soldiers to hear

    Not understood in the moment; only later

    As memories force themselves into daily thoughts

    Memories of pain for which no sense can be made

     

    Memories that never fade, regardless of passing time

    Of deeds completed and witnessed and even undone

    Memories that kill love, relationship, peace and hope

    As did bullets and bombs their brothers in arms

     

    Emotions that paralyze

    A flood that cannot be contained

    Only erased through Heavenly forgiveness

     

    “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”

    Words for all those who fought for peace

    While forever sacrificing their own

     

    And when it is time to join those who fell during battle

    Those they loved and still love with all their heart

    Mercy will lead to where no memories of war exist

     

    The Lord will once again say those words

    Soldier, you are loved

    Soldier, be at peace

    Soldier, you are forgiven

    Agent Orange was a chemical defoliant used to eliminate forest cover in Vietnam. The U.S. sprayed more than 19 million gallons over 4.5 million acres of land from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange was later revealed to cause serious health issues, including cancer, among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese people.