A Simple Salute

By Jan C. Scruggs

Many stories were shared during two recent VVMF events in Kentucky.

But some stand out.

For one Vietnam veteran, decorations, awards and recognition weren’t his greatest honors. It was the salute of one soldier.

Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Yerks told stories of his time in war and the kind of reception veterans faced upon their return home. In Korea, Yerks led a company of American infantrymen that was nearly wiped out, but managed to capture the enemy position at a key point during a battle. In Vietnam, he served as a battalion commander. When rescuing a wounded soldier, his helicopter was shot down.

The general made a habit of visiting local veterans when they first return home, especially those who had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yerks was visiting one area veteran in the hospital. The veteran had been shot in Iraq, the bullet passing through his throat leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to speak.

During the visit, Yerks got the impression that the veteran didn’t want him there and started to leave the room.

But as he was making his exit, he noticed a slight movement that caused him to pause.

The wounded veteran’s hand slowly made its way up to his forehead. His hand was shaking badly and it was visible on his face the strength required to execute the gesture that is painless and commonplace for most service members.

The wounded veteran saluted the stranger who had come to visit him and it was a moment the general never forgot.

Yerks returned the salute, a gesture that he said became the highest honor he ever received.

After telling this story the general took charge of something incredibly moving. He read the names of all the Kentuckians who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In the audience was Lowell Hanson, who lost his Marine son to a sniper’s bullet in Afghanistan. His family is awaiting the Education Center where his photograph will be shown – alongside the others who gave their lives in the more recent wars.

ImageThese stories are often told at The Wall That Heals ceremonies and other events hosted by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Once built, the Education Center at The Wall will put a face to each of the more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and will also be a place where stories like these will live on in a manner worthy of the great service and sacrifice of those veterans who gave their nation all they had.  When you look at the photo of Matt Hanson, I think you will see why we need these heroes to be remembered – and soon.