The licence plate frame on my car says:
EARN YOUR FREEDOM
SERVE YOUR COUNTRY
Aside from the CIB and Jump Wings stickers on my rear window you would never know I’m a vet. Back in JR high I first became aware of just what a CIB, Combat Infantrymen’s Badge meant. Growing up I went through phases of my military education, all of my own making. First were outlandish ideas brought on by the Star Wars movies, later Buck Rogers and Star Blazers. I had an idea of what it was like to be in an military at war, fighting for some bigger ideal than myself. I was six or seven at the time. Being a boy in America I was born into a culture that fought for things, the rights of people to live fulling lives free of oppression. My first real concept of war, real war, was hatched in 2nd Grade when I watched the movie Kelly’s Heroes with my mom and dad on a Sunday night. Strange, maybe, but that prompted me to learn about WWII.As I grew older I learned more and more about WWII, I strove to become an ‘expert’ in WWII knowledge, beyond my teachers. I wanted to stun older people with my knowledge of that war. Out of that I learned about the Korean War and Vietnam. I read everything I could get my young hands on about all those wars, the battles, the men, the costs. When I reached High School I was more qualified to teach the subjects then any of my teachers. (Believe me, I had huge battles with my history teachers about the wars. They must have hated this punk ass kid talking down to them about the wars Americans had fought.)
Early in 7th grade I met a man named Pete. Pete was a three tour Vietnam Vet. He first served in the 196th Light Infantry and later in the 1st CAV. He is one of my heroes. This kind man that would talk to me for hours about his war, he took time for a young boy, a boy that thought that war was cool and honorable, full of glory, all my stupid questions and ideas. He always had time for me even though he had his own children. Pete and I went shooting together, went on camping trips, and shared books. And, not for one moment, did he bullshit me about war. Pete is the man that showed me what a Combat Infantrymen’s Badge looked liked and, more importantly, what it meant.
What does it mean, you might ask? It means that the recipient has been in combat with the enemy. He has received and exchanged fire with the enemy. He has fought the foes of his country. He had defended those ideas that the Founding Father set forth. Freedom, Liberty, Justice. He has faced fear and pain, darkness and hate, and stood up to those things. He is an honorable citizen and worthy of respect. I have earned that badge. Pete also taught me what a Purple Heart means. A man that has gone beyond all that. He has bleed for all those things. He has risked his life for thing beyond himself, nearly died, or did die for The Cause.
With my simple licence plate frame I have been saluted and cursed for my ideas. One evening I watched a mother and daughter read my frame in the rear view mirror read my message, their lips moving in the glass. The daughters face showed confusion until the mother told her what it meant. Both waved and smiled when they passed thanking me for my service. Others have flipped me the bird. Fuck them.
However, I cannot imagine a person defiling a man’s vehicle because of his Purple Heart plates. I know those people are out there, but it saddens me to think of that response to a man, my friend A.S., that has given up so much for this country. How low must you be to do that to a person that has fought for your freedom? Fought to keep you safe? Maybe you don’t like the war, hell, I don’t, but respect the man that stands up and fights for the right for you to disagree with it. Without men like A.S. we would all be much poorer, be in such misery that we could not imagine. Afraid to talk openly, afraid of death from a tyrannical government, faced with cold concrete rooms filled blood and fear.
It makes me sad to think of those things, not just for A.S. but for all the good men and women that have died for us, through out the growing of this country, through all the discord and struggles, the strife. All those that has brought us to this wonderful place. As Major Michael O’Donnell said,” gentle heroes you left behind.”
“If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you love them, though you may or may not have always.Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.“
– Major Michael O’Donnell, January 1, 1970, Dak To, Vietnam
MAJ O’Donnell was a helicopter pilot that went missing in action on March 24, 1970 during a rescue attempt. His remains were returned in 1995 and identified in 2001.