Current Commentary

Veterans Take
Guest Editor
Curtis Hendel


A Christmas Experience

This year for Christmas, my wife took a trip with our kids to Oklahoma to spend time with her family. Due to several factors I was unable to go with them. Since I was on my own for the holiday, I had a list of things to accomplish that was a mile long and Christmas day was to be a productive one.

I awoke before 6 am and proceeded to go to do chores on the hog buildings that I take care of. All I could think of was how my day was going to go and all that I was going to get done, maybe even sneak in a nap. But then it happened, “BOOM!”, and my day changed. Something told me that Christmas this year would be spent at the VA hospital in Sioux Falls visiting veterans and wishing them a Merry Christmas.

So my day was set. I decided to first go and see a veteran from Adrian that is in the Luverne veteran’s home. On the way in I ran into another guy that I knew, so I talked to him for a while first. When I got to Bryan’s room he was a little tired but very happy to see me. I felt pretty good walking out. I had actually spoken to several of the guys in passing and was able to pass on the holiday greetings. This was not too hard for me, but Sioux Falls would be another matter.

On the way I realized I was going into unknown territory, I was going to talk to people I didn’t know. The thought of just stopping in someone’s room that I didn’t know would leave me vulnerable. This caused me a great amount of anxiety and I thought of about a million reasons to bail on this project. I kept going.

When I got to the VA, I thought something was different. I go there several times a year on a service connected disability, but this time it was different. There was that “BOOM!” again. This was no longer a hospital to me, it was a hallowed hall. Those I was about to greet were men who had helped to change the world. They had given me the very ability to write my thoughts as freely as I do.

The nurses I first encountered were friendly and surprised. They seemed shocked that I would just walk off the street and ask where to start. I talked to Richard, my first stop, for about 20 minutes. We talked about numerous things from our families to our travels, and how the traffic in Texas stinks. I said Merry Christmas several times, and on the way out the door I added, “Thank you for being a veteran”. As his eyes welled with tears and surprise his smile took over. It meant a lot to him.

Next was Gary. Our discussion was shorter but no less important to our day. He was very tired and wanted to sleep. There it was again, that surprised smile and satisfied look in his eyes. I spoke to several more veterans before I left. This experience left me humbled, almost meek. In my two stops on Christmas Day 2002 I had walked in the shadow of excellence. No matter how long they had served, they had an impact on all of our lives. They had helped shape the future for my children. These guys were important to all of us, and they were alone.

This is an unfortunate fact. In cities all over the United States, some of OUR veterans are spending time alone in hospitals and homes. As much anxiety I had on the beginning of my Christmas trip, it turned out to be well worth it. It is possible that by taking just a few hours of my time I may have given back just a fraction of what had been given to me. I would suggest this experience to anybody. There is a veteran’s home right down the street in Luverne. Even if it is someone you know, take the time to thank them for their service and watch their response. I bet you will be touched.

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