The heart of life.
I’ve been shipped out to military camp every summer since the age of nine. Perhaps my grandfather, the National Guard’s previous general, believed I would be the next leader of the armed forces. I would hate to break it to him, but when it comes to my dexterity in handling weapons and applying control, things don’t seem to work out, so two years ago I became a counselor in training which is also referred to as a C.I.T. Along with the morning routine of sit ups, push ups, and other extracurricular activities, C.I.T’s were also required to do every camper’s laundry, cook the meals, and do community service projects. One assignment in particular was to take a journey to a Veterans’ home for a day.
The musty mothball aroma of the veterans’ home made my nose crinkle. I was not looking forward to the day ahead of me, but I knew I’d have to make the best of this experience. My first two hours at the home were spent with my best camp friend Kasey and me sitting at a table, waiting for some crabby old veteran to play The Game of Life with us. A receptionist finally dragged a man out of bed to play; his name was Ed.
Veterans Memorial Home is where I reached my life’s turning point, and I’m not talking about the game. Ed sat quietly at the table for a few moments, glaring at both Kasey and me. During this awkward moment, I watched as the other C.I.T’s played balloon catch with a group of veterans, who seemed to drop the balloon every two seconds. However, Ed was not into such trivial games and activities; this explains why he didn’t come to play the game of Life with us under his own free will. So, instead of playing Life, Ed began telling us his life story. He stared at us intently and began to ramble on about his years as a soldier.
At age eighteen, Ed was sent overseas to fight a war for our country. I can’t exactly remember where he was deployed to, but at that time he had barely any family, and nobody to truly care about him. His mother had promised to write him letters while he was overseas, but when she got sick, she asked her neighbors to send him letters. At first all the neighbors and their children sent letters on a monthly basis, but only one continued after the first year. Her name was Olivia. She would send him pictures, letters, and care packages that kept his spirits high while he was away at war. Little did she know though that Ed was slowly falling in love with her. Ed explained that Olivia, this stranger from half way across the world, is the only real reason he was still alive today.
He went into detail about one cold day overseas. On that particular day, only two tanks were sent off: one, that Ed was in command of, and the other, that contained many of his fellow friends and troops. Ahead of them were two paths, and neither knew which one to take. I noticed Ed got chills up and down his arms.” I had a picture of Olivia with me that day,” he said. “I looked at the picture, then closed my eyes, looked up to God and asked Him which direction should I take?”
Ed told us a strong gust of wind blew to the right, so he took that trail as the others took the one to the left. It was there, only a few feet up the left trail that his friends’ tank blew up. Everything had happened so quickly that his mind went into a blur. The following month Ed was sent home to heal from the wounds he received during his attempt to save his friends’ lives. At this point, the only person Ed looked forward to seeing was Olivia. Ed rummaged through the letters he received from her, and drove to the address listed on the envelope. It took him hours to find the correct street but the second he pulled up to the house, he knew everything, from this point on, was going to fall into place. Ed asked Olivia to marry him that day and she said yes, instantly.
The tears that rolled down Ed’s face on that day were happy ones. He was a strong man with a heart of gold, but, he had a heart of purple too. He won a the Purple Heart medal after his efforts in the war. He showed us his medals with such pride and dignity that I respected this man with all my heart and soul. My long day of service suddenly seemed too short. Ed invited both my friend and me to play bingo with his veteran friends. I began talking to the other veterans, who turned out to be astounding people. I especially got close to one with Alzheimer disease who mistook me for his niece. Instead of getting irritated as I have in the past, I smiled and answered his repetitive questions over and over; I even helped him to win five dollars in a Bingo game. That man may not remember that moment, but I will never forget it.
At the end of the day I gave Ed my military hat and he offered to give me his “Purple Heart.” I declined his kind offer and whispered softly, “No, no thank you Ed, you have already given me more than I could have ever imagined. You have given me a heart of gold.”
During my time at Veterans Memorial Home, I learned a lot about myself and others. Since that day, my attitude towards life has been completely changed and I will never again judge a person by his looks. I started at the veteran’s home seeing each one of the residents as a crabby old person. However in the end, I learned that each one of them was a hero in his own way. I can not even begin to explain how much pride I have for every one of those veterans I met that day and their sacrifices for me and our country.