Another day, another vet recounting too many battles and nowhere near enough victories.
I met Richard this morning on my morning walk to my office. He had set up a small oasis and was napping. I was across the street and saw some youths approach him with questionable intent. He woke as I was telling them to leave. He looked at them, sprang to his feet and started a hobbling slow motion run at them. They laughed and walked away. I stayed.
Richard is 87 years old (last Tuesday was his birthday, which he spent in a New Jersey VA hospital). He served in WWII under Patton (way under Patton...but the pride never left his voice as he talked about their victories). We spoke about his life in the military. His new life in the shelter. And the girls at the Hooters in Times Square who bring him chili and soup late at night after their shifts are over. We talked and talked and I took picture after picture while too many people walked by wondering about the interaction. Not sure whether it was the moments of boisterous laughter or the painful moments of silence as he shared the more tragic parts of his life in short story form while I fought the waves of despair. At one point he asked whether I needed to get to work and I told him this was far more important. I was not lying.
I have a special place for Veterans. I never served but I do have a profound appreciation for those that did and do to this day. I remember hearing a fact at last year's Veteran's Day Celebration that a full one quarter of all US Veterans are homeless at one point in their lives. Perhaps that number has changed in the year but I am not an eternal optimist.
I am now in my office but quite distracted. By our conversation. By the sad reality that touches me so deeply. And by the positive thought that Richard agreed to have dinner with me this evening. I expect there will be lots more stories. And with his permission, I intend to not let them go unheard.