One Author's Life


Remembering a Vietnam Veteran: Bob's Story

November 12, 2014

His name was Bob. He lost an eye in Vietnam, and so much more.

He lost his youth and his dreams for the future. Worst of all, he lost hope.

I want to tell you a little about Bob as we honor our nation’s veterans this week.

I didn’t meet Bob until recently, near the end of his life. My husband knew Bob through his work. Then one day in early 2012, Bob seemed to vanish. Bob was known all around his town, a recognizable figure always on a bicycle. He spent a considerable amount of time at the library. He had lived with his mother and been fairly stable until she grew old and died. Everyone knew the one-eyed Vietnam veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. But no one had seen him recently.

My husband set out to find him. I offered to go along to help.

We went to Bob’s last-known address, a Section-8 housing project in a dangerous neighborhood where at first no one wanted to talk to us. Finally, we found a building manager – a woman who softened when I told her Bob’s story. She remembered him, and saw that we really only wanted to help.

“Bob had a stroke a few weeks ago,” she said. “We called an ambulance and he went to the hospital, but now I’m not sure where he is.”

She helped us make several phone calls until we finally located Bob. He was in a nursing home in a town we’d never heard of.

We thanked the building manager, and off we went. The nursing home, run by the state, was small but very clean and pleasant. We would never have thought to look for him there. It wasn’t near his home town, and it wasn’t a veterans’ facility. But indeed he was there. At the front desk, the staff person’s eyes grew large when we said his full name.

“No one comes to see Bob,” she said. Then she whispered, “It’s good that you came. He’s on Hospice.”

My husband’s shoulders slumped. Were we too late? Was Bob able to have visitors? Was Bob even conscious? Would he know we were there?

It was not too late. Bob was in pain and not able to swallow or speak very well, but he knew my husband immediately. In fact, Bob began to weep so hard that it was difficult to watch.

My husband held Bob’s hand and said prayers. Bob’s Hospice nurse was present and she cried, too.

As it turned out, Bob lived for several more months, and my husband visited him regularly. These visits were small efforts compared to the wondrous impact they had on Bob.

During this week, when so many of us watch movies such as “Patton,” let’s not forget that it’s the little guys like Bob who live and die for our country.