Ongong Battle For Hearts And Souls

Joe Walker’s Value Speakę

 

 


He never made it home from the war. Not really. Not completely.

And no. I’m not referring to the fingers that were lost in an accidental artillery explosion just a few weeks before the war ended. Sure that was painful. A tragedy, some called it. But the physical wounds healed with time, and he got along quite well, thank you, without the missing digits.

The emotional scars of war, however, were indelibly burned into the most private places of his heart and soul. Most of the time, they were invisible, but once in awhile, they showed themselves in profound and provocative ways. Like the time he dozed in church and woke up screaming. The minister tried to make a joke about it, and only made matters worse. So for the rest of his life he avoided church — religiously, you might say — but not because he was offended or unbelieving. He was just afraid of dozing off again.

 

 

 

 

Unlike many of the conscripts of his generation, he had volunteered for army duty and was proud to serve. By nature, he wasn’t much of a fighter and he absolutely detested the thought of killing another human being. But he was loyal to his country and believed with all his heart that their cause was just and right. And so he served with distinction and honor, and was even decorated for valorous conduct on the field of battle.

But something happened to him out there. Something horrifying. He never talked much about it, but it was always there. You could see it in the way he sat, like he was anxious to be someplace else — anyplace else. You could hear it in the way he  talked, like his mind was never really focused on the subject at hand. And you could feel it in the way he looked at you, like he was always trying to decide if you were friend or foe.  Don’t get me wrong;  he was still a good guy, just like he’d always been. But he was different. Vastly different. The war had changed him, just like it had changed the entire nation. And neither would ever be the same again. 

“When I volunteered to fight,” he wrote in his journal, “I thought I knew the risks. I had seen veterans return home blinded and maimed, and I had attended several funerals with flag-draped coffins. I understood that could happen to me, and I accepted the challenge. But nobody told me that the war might cost me a piece of my soul.”

The soldier’s name was Andrew Wilson. You’ve probably never heard of him because he never really did anything extraordinary — before, during, or after his term of military service. But if his story sounds familiar, it’s only because it has been repeated time and time again throughout the course of human history. Wilson rose to the lofty rank of corporal in the Union Army during the Civil War, but he could just as easily have been a doughboy during World War I or a World War II G.I., or an Army nurse in Korea, or a chopper pilot in Vietnam, or a member of a tank crew during the Gulf Crisis.

Millions of men and women have represented this nation in the armed services during the past 200-plus years. Most have done so nobly, bringing dignity to the uniform they wear and the country they serve. With tenderness and appreciation, we honor those who have paid the ultimate price of freedom with their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. But on this Veteran’s Day, let us not forget the walking wounded; those whose hearts and souls are forever scarred by their experiences on the front lines of man’s ongoing inhumanity toward man. For them the battle isn’t over. They are prisoners in a war still raging in their own minds, and it is our duty to reach out to them with love, patience, and understanding. Even if we can’t restore peace to their souls, we can at least welcome them home. Really. And completely.


This article appeared in a local West Valley City, Utah newspaper in the early 1990’s.  I have been unable to locate Mr. Walker. If anyone can lead me to Mr. Joe Walker, I would greatly appreciate any information.   —Thank you.