I am now ready to wander outside the house, but before I leave I have one very important act. Let’s see, I am dressed, I have my wallet, my keys, and my phone. Then I reach for it — my hat. This is not just an ordinary piece of headgear that keeps my head covered — this is my Vietnam Veterans hat. It recognizes my services in Vietnam and is like a beacon of light, as most veterans can distinguish the emblem from a distance. Some are drawn to it like a moth to a bright light. It is now a part of me and has taken me many years for me to proudly wear.
One of my Brothers from my Company in Vietnam gave me my first hat around 1995. It was ingrained in me when I came home in 1971 to not let anyone know I served in Vietnam. It took me 15 years to finally wear it in public and now it is proudly worn.
Vietnam Veterans who see me wearing the hat smile and approach me warmly with a now familiar greeting, “Welcome Home Brother!”
I can’t say what they see but I can look in their eyes and see that familiar “one thousand yard stare.” The stare is lifeless and still shows the sadness from their soul. They always greet me with a sincere smile but their eyes tell their story.
I have seen Brothers cry openly as they reflect upon their tour of duty, akin to some of the stories written in my creative writing class for my sons to read. In that class I have been able to reach inwards and document personal thoughts and experiences. It has been a great healing tool and I am grateful to be able to reflect on good and bad stories. As time has passed, it has become hard to recognize me without the hat.
One co-worker, Ray, who is also a veteran, smiles and jokingly kids me about wearing the hat. I always tell him it is good for initiating conversation. Last year, I was at the Gettysburg Museum in Pennsylvania when an older hatless person walked by and told me, “Welcome home!” I asked him when he was there. He told 1969 with the 101st Airborne. I told him my
co-worker was wounded at the famous battle at Hamburger Hill. He asked me what my friends name was and when I told him my co-worker’s name this gentleman became excited and told me, “I know Ray! I was his platoon leader and he was my squad leader. Please give him my e-mail address.”
When I returned home I saw Ray and gave him the piece of paper with the name of his platoon leader. I asked Ray if he recognized the name on the paper. Ray was so surprised and excited when I told him about my encounter with this stranger from across the United States. Now when I see Ray, he smiles and says to me, “Keep wearing the hat!”