Veterans feel needed by others

Posted Nov. 18, 2009, at 5:47 p.m.

The Bangor Veterans Day parade was, as usual, something to be appreciated and celebrated, as testimony to the organizers, the veterans’ organizations, and the never ending support of Galen Cole, his staff and many volunteers. There was something different in the air this year though, something that would slip through the mist now and then, as though challenging us to identify it, and to explain its presence.

It wasn’t just a parade with veterans passing by, bands playing, spectators applauding and shouting out their thanks. There was something else. I think there was a need there, drifting back and forth between the watchers and the marchers. I’d never felt it before in the years that I’ve walked with my fellow veterans.

Before, it’s always been us needing the support of those who watched, reassuring us that we’ve done right by them, and that they’re proud of us. I think that this year, they’ve needed us, that they wanted to talk with us, wanted to shake our hands and to hug us and to listen to our reassurance for them for a change. I think they needed us and wanted us to be a part of their lives, if just for a few scattered moments.

I think the Mums and the Dads, the little girls and boys sitting in their strollers and on the curbs, and their graying grandparents, were inviting us in for a visit. It was a growing feeling that they were waiting for us to break ranks and come to them, to shake their hands, to hug them and to pat the curly heads and upturned faces that were looking up at us and waving their little flags.

I think that the people along the way wanted us to come and say “thank you for coming to see us and for helping us to heal whatever we have left that needs healing.” I know that whenever I looked into the eyes of those young children and then looked up into the eyes of their Mums and Dads, I saw need there too, need for some comfort and relief from the wars and the deaths of so many of our young men and women. I saw too, questions and doubt that needed quieting at a time when things just seem to be slipping away from us.

I’ve thought since then that maybe it’s us, the veterans of all the wars, that might now be able to return the comfort and the love that those thousands of people lining the streets have given us for so many years.

I felt needed on Nov. 11, and I know that others felt the same way. It was somehow different from past years. There was a beginning of a deeper connection, a very real need to reach out to one another beyond the applause and the flag waving, maybe even beyond the many words of thanks that we all heard and tried to return to each other.

For me, it all changed when a couple of veterans stepped from the formation and started high fiving the little ones and speaking to their families, even running up onto a lawn to hug an old soldier, who was unable to move from his chair. I started then to pay more attention to the faces above the children and it struck me that they needed us, just as much as we needed them. I broke ranks, and others did also. I looked hard into those eyes and I saw some laughter and some tears in the faces of those people who were cheering and applauding us. It took me longer than it should have to recognize all of this, but I saw something else in those faces. I saw a ton of pride and I saw love.

It was an incredible day and an incredible feeling. It was an awakening as to just how much we can all mean to each other when given those special moments.

I’m approaching eight decades of life and I pray that another year will find me back on that parade route, touching more and more of those families that touched me on Veterans Day, in ways I could never have imagined.

If we can look at each other in the light I’ve tried to describe, what a celebration we might have on the next Veterans Day. It could be one to remember.

Loren Ritchie of Greenville served in the Army during the Korean War.

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