This photo of a 98 year old veteran saluting and wearing his uniform one last time, has had an impact on me. It is not so much the swirl of patriotism, although that is impossible to put aside. It is about how the heart, mind , and the soul know no boundaries, other than the ones we place on them. The story as told to reporters doesn’t do justice to the power of the image for me. It’s the old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words that I’m applying .
The statement is obvious, “I left something behind in that war. I have never forgotten.” Maybe he lost friends, or a limb, but he most certainly came home a changed man. At the hour of his passing he wanted to make a statement and perhaps feel the fight or the pride of the uniform one last time.
We do an inadequate job of honoring our servicemen and women, and we do even worse in honoring our elders. This picture reminds us of both of those short-comings. To scold about our youth obsessed culture is as futile as getting someone with an iPhone to be part of a conversation. If another adage may be applied, it is, “Age is nothing but a number.” Put 40 years on some teen-idol-infant-terrible and you have no problem imagining him screaming at the neighborhood kids to get off his proverbial lawn.
Youth is a temporary state of being, so is being old. Life is temporary. But the effort to dress and salute the camera is an ageless impulse. That’s heart. That’s the soul. That’s something you had in your youth or you didn’t. Honor, duty, those are constants.
I am grateful that I never had to go to war. Yet I know that I will never know what it means to stand side by side with my brothers and sisters in arms, or what it means to stand for something bigger than me. Those in the service know that. And they never forget. It’s nice to say thank you and to have a concert once a year, and it fires me up to see the soldiers lip-synching along with the artist on stage. But, that gratitude fades for most of the year.
Why do we send our young to war? Obviously, it’s because of strength and agility and measurable physical attributes. But, mostly it’s the mind that can be molded and in some cases warped. So, while the internet is “broken” by the image of a posterior, we bury more soldiers and aging veterans, and make stars of children.
If you look at this soldier on his death bed and can’t see the fire in his soul that is housed in the temporary form of his physical being, you miss the point. I’m as shallow as the next guy, I like pretty things, but we need to start honoring character and youthful spirit which doesn’t have to fade when the body fades. The eyes, look into the eyes. Respect your elders, but remember that a shitty old person was a shitty young person. Respect heart, loyalty, honor, effort, things that will live on when we are gone. Man, that salute is something. That was a bad dude.