I am home from the Disabled Veterans Honor Hunt in Norton, Kansas.
20 disabled veterans were taken on a guided deer hunt in Norton, Kansas. The residents of Norton, population 3,000, raised enough money to cover the expenses needed for the hunters. Most of the veterans are not regular deer hunters due to their injuries or disabilities. Each veteran was provided with a personal guide to help stalk and go after deer. Volunteer meat processors were on stand-by to bag up the meat.
19 deer were shot.
Our friends rallied together to help the event. The Norton Honor Hunt was filmed by Killin’ It Outdoors. The veterans were interviewed and then followed around by camera crews. Andy Griggs flew in from Nashville to perform at the Honor Hunt Banquet. I came in town to interview the veterans because I knew every hero has a good story to tell.
They wouldn’t tell them to me.
Not those stories anyway.
I wanted to hear a war story. From any war, I didn’t care – from Vietnam to the current war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. I wanted to hear about someone sacrificing their legs in the name of the United States. I wanted to hear about a man becoming a paraplegic because he saved a civilian’s child from a burning building. I wanted a hero’s tale. I wanted a scene from Hollywood. Good always trumps evil.
I was blind.
They didn’t have stories of valor.
They had horror stories.
Horror stories they would not dare tell a mom with two kids in tow. They only knew sickening stories. The kind of sickening one feels for that split second when you slam on your car brakes because the car in front of you is at a dead stop on the highway. The slow motion gives you time to pray for your kids in the backseat to live. That kind of horror.
My friend, Will, fought in Iraq right after college. He was first in his convoy. His job was to lead the route for his fellow soldiers – his family, his kids, his loved ones – following behind.
His family didn’t live.
You could say Will was lucky. But to him, he would be reminded his friends were not. Will flew back home a year later. He arrived in Dallas and walked into an airport full of people he didn’t know. There were cheerleaders with signs and people applauding. Hugs and kisses and babies filled the terminal. He felt welcome but didn’t feel understood.
“You tell yourself you are fighting for America, fighting for freedom but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel appreciated at home but it’s not…it doesn’t really matter. It’s a horror story…watching your family disappear before your eyes. Julie, as your friend, that’s all I can tell you.”
Will isn’t the same person I knew in college. But I wouldn’t be able to tell you that from my point of view. He has always been Will. He was always the first one to buy me a whiskey in Aggieville when we attended K-State. That didn’t change.
Will bought me a whiskey as soon as I walked into the Honor Hunt Banquet.
The veteran with no legs offered a hand to help carry my kids’ drinks because he noticed my hands were full. He used his other hand to push his wheelchair.
The female veteran teared up when I told her we brought our dog’s ashes to be spread in the field she used to pheasant hunt in.
A Vietnam veteran wiped away tears before my 8-year-old daughter walked up to ask if she could shake his hand.
I am the one that showed up blind.