I saw this picture recently of a crowd sitting in lawn chairs along a parade route. In the background, a military formation is marching by carrying our flag. Sadly, the only one standing in a show of respect is a veteran in a wheelchair. That bothered me, so I wrote this to give yesterdays hero the recognition he deserves. To all our veterans, thank you for your service and my freedom.
“Excuse me” the woman calls quietly and somewhat apologetically. “Can we get in front of you? We won’t block your view”
Slowly the crowd parts, some reluctantly, others without hesitation. The woman pushes the wheelchair forward, smiling as she navigated the narrow opening provided for their passage until they reach the curb.
The woman, a daughter perhaps, locks the wheels of the chair and fusses over it’s occupant, adjusting the robe in his lap, assuring his comfort. He shows no resistance to the attention, but simply sits and waits. A man standing next to them jokingly comments “I guess this isn’t your first parade is it”.
Lacking a response, the woman explains “he is hard of hearing. I’m sure he didn’t hear you”. The man smiles at her and turns his attention back to the street.
In the wheelchair sits an elderly man. His shrunken body a shell of what it used to be. His breathing labored, aided by the tubes that extend from his nose to the oxygen tank attached to his chair. On his coat he wears three tarnished medals, evidence of a time when he had been called to serve. His head sports a blue campaign cap with VFW stitched in gold. He is yesterday’s soldier, come to pay his respects.
In the distance, drums can be heard, soon to be joined by the sounds of a brass band. A stirring march riffles over the crowd, and an electricity grips their senses. Soon a call of cadence is heard, accompanied by the rhythmic tramp of boots, perfectly in time with the music. The sounds grow louder until at last a military formation looms into view. Uniformed soldiers, shoulders back, eyes straight ahead, march in perfect rows and columns. Gleaming boots and ribboned chests move by, their rifles resting on their shoulders. The crowd stirs, waving small flags amidst enthusiastic cheers. Pride hangs thick in the air.
The color guard approaches, flags and banners held high, snapping in the breeze. Many spectators automatically remove their caps while others simply cover their hearts. Children, hoisted on their fathers shoulders to gain a better view, clap in excitement.
The old man tugs at the woman’s sleeve, motioning her to come closer. She bends down and listens as, in a halting voice, he says “help me up”.
The woman straightens and asks “are you sure”? He nods his head yes.
Walking to the front of the chair, the woman removes the robe and, grasping his outstretched hands, pulls him slowly to his feet, where he struggles to stand with her assistance. Those closest to him watch as the frail stooped body, with some difficulty, wills itself to stand more erect. The pain in his lined face is evident as he offers a salute to the flag passing by.
Instantly, the cadence count stops, and in it’s place is heard a command. “Company, eyes right” the guide-on bearer bellows as he smartly returns the aging veterans salute, a sign of respect for the old soldier. Several around him are stirred by the gesture and slowly the sound of applause builds within the crowd.
The old man returns to his chair, acknowledging the honor through the tears in his eyes. For just a moment, he is again a hero. This is his flag. This is his country. He bought them both so many years ago.