By Dana Ayers, Volunteer Contributor
My first volunteer experience with the Red Cross was meeting service members at Walter Reed as they were taken off a bus after being evacuated out of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The bus was typically full of some service members who were being kept alive by machines, some who had lost limbs, some with trauma from IED blasts, some with gunshot wounds, and some with mental trauma. Their journey began when they were injured in the theater, where they were likely rushed into combat hospitals, then flown to Germany, then flown to Andrews Air Force Base, then eventually stuck on a jostling bus trekking through DC up to the old Army hospital on Georgia Avenue.
I couldn't imagine how tired and scared they must have been by the time they got to me, or what questions were going through their minds. Like - would they have to retire from the military now? What else would they do with their life? How could they sit in a hospital while the men and women they loved as family members were still fighting in Iraq without them? How hard would life be now with their injuries?
And with all the baggage this group was carrying - the exhaustion, the fear, even the embarrassment at being stuck in bed in such a vulnerable condition - they would always politely thank me. They easily could've said "who is this stranger shoving something in my face?" but they never did. They had manners and respect so deeply ingrained that they wouldn't brush me off, not even in their conditions.
In addition to the wounded themselves, I also remember the tireless service men and women who made up the hospital staff. I remember the families who were waiting, sometimes until 1am, for their injured loved one's bus. Sadly, not all the wounded had people waiting for them though. I remember them, too.
So, this Veterans Day, if you don't personally have someone to remember, you can borrow my memories instead. Take a moment and reflect on their sacrifices. And then thank the next service member you see, even if they're too humble to act like they deserve it.
Note: If you're looking for a way to honor a veteran, service member, or their families, check out the Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign. And if you live in the area, stop by Tysons Corner Center to sign a card in November during the month long Red Cross and NetApp Holiday Mail for Heroes table.