The man appeared suddenly at my front screen door last night.
“Corbett!’ yelled the big man. “Corbett!”
Then he rang the bell. I didn’t recognize him at first and wasn’t sure if he was friend or foe. I opened the door, stepped onto the front porch and made sure to keep him at arms-length.
“I didn’t know who else to talk to,” he said.
I recognized him as a man I knew from a work crew in the neighborhood last summer. We had talked a few times and he said he grew up in the Hill Section of Scranton where I live. In his 60s he’s still a man you’d want in your corner in a pinch.
“You don’t know what happened,” he said.
A small gathering of past and present public officials had gathered earlier on Courthouse Square with a few military veterans to unveil plans to pay tribute to the 52 Lackawanna County residents who died during the Vietnam War.
The man on my porch said he was a Vietnam combat veteran.
But the event earlier in the day had seemed to upset him more than comfort him. He called it a flop as his eyes filled. He said he saw nothing of the announcement on the 6 o’clock news.
Anxiety is too mysterious for its own good. It sneaks into your mind like a thief and steals confidence from even the most steadfast person. A little panic can go a long way – too far, in fact, when you feel lost and worry that stability might never be found again.
That’s why a friend in need is a friend indeed. We all need somebody sometime to help us through the haze – especially when the years start to blur and aging takes over against our will.
Although I’m still not sure what exactly upset the man who came to my home last night, I am sure that he – and countless other Vietnam veterans, particularly combat veterans - needs some well-earned reassurance that we have not forgotten the tours of duty, draft and death that defined a troublesome time in our personal and national history.
Although their patrols stopped a long time ago, time marches on. Growing older is an often lonely post. After all those years since Saigon fell in 1975, the memorial is the least we can do. The real mission of compassion and honor comes when the memorial is finally dedicated, the names read and the politicians go home.
Poor health remains an enemy for too many of our region’s military veterans. So do high taxes and service charges for unassuming men and women whose income never gets higher as the cost of food skyrockets and other expenses inflict invisible wounds on those who have already sacrificed too much. Depression also waits in dark ambush, ready, willing and able to claim its next victim. So does despair.
Of course, other veterans from other wars have experienced similar torment. The death camps left their marks on liberators, Korean vets still revisit the bitter years and the ongoing inner turmoil brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq continues to take lives by suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But the man at my door last night was a Vietnam veteran asking for help.
Money, power, kindness, training, treatment and more shape the litany of offerings we must continue to provide. Civilians are duty bound in our connection to those who fought and fight the wars. Not everyone puts on the uniform and picks up the gun in service to the nation. Not everyone should. But everyone must provide constructive service to the nation and our individual communities in one way or another.
I opened the door to my friend last night. Now we must open our hearts and minds to him and others who need our help. Because by helping them we also are helping ourselves.