Students visit Veterans Hospital
At the Veterans Hospital in Murfreesboro, several white pillars support the entrance of the multi-story building. A small flower garden splitting the sidewalk to the entrance brings beauty to the exterior, even on a rainy day. An American flag proudly greets visitors.
Inside, brave Veterans keep the building bustling with activity.
Before arriving here, I, like many students my age, did not realize that places like this existed. I did not realize the dire need to help the protectors of our democracy in their older years. Although I had spoken to and thanked many veterans before, I had never sat down to hear their stories. This in itself is a shame, considering they can tell some of the most interesting and shocking memories of war.
After entering the building, a woman named Mrs. Darlene greeted us in the lobby, bringing a cart to carry what we had brought -- toothpaste, shampoo, shirts, and other essentials, plus a few other items -- veterans hospitals are always running low on supplies. Then, we took the elevator to go meet the first veterans on our trip.
Upon entering the room, I could see a small table and many chairs surrounding it. Two people were already seated at this table: Arthur Rowlings, a 96-year-old World War II pilot, and Al Greenfield, a 94-year-old World War II soldier.
After introductions, we sat down and began to hear about their lives. Arthur started by describing his deployment and his crew. Overall, he had a wonderful crew as they were all very similar, in both size and temperament. Many weeks they all went out, meeting new faces and drinking. One time he even flew on his plane drunk, he said laughingly. He said he would enlist again a thousand times over, even though he spoke of the great loss that always follows in the wake of war.
Arthur witnessed many of his friends’ deaths and went to many funerals. He mentioned that a crew could go back home after 50 successful missions. His crew flew 46 before being shot down. After the crash, Arthur was taken as a prisoner of war in Germany, where he dropped to 80 pounds.
He recalled the older Nazi guards were very kind and trusting of the POWs, even allowing the prisoners to clean their loaded rifles. The younger ones, on the other hand, were quite brutal.
At this point, Al commenced speaking. He was based in an armory in Georgia. Al was also taken as a POW. Unfortunately, they did not get to speak more as they had to leave.
The third veteran we met, Mr. Rosselot, was based in Afghanistan about 15 years ago. Mr. Rosselot immediately spoke of the strained atmosphere there. It was apparent the local people greatly disliked Americans on their soil. He expressed his view of how tensions will never improve because of the simple, but significant, fact that they hate everything about America; our views, our culture, our politics. Everything.
Mr. Rosselot also described his encounters with local farmers, who were more hospitable. When asked about the treatment of women in that country, he stated adamantly that they had absolutely no rights. Women were not allowed to be even in the same room as the soldiers. He would see women being abused and have to restrain himself from helping. If he intervened, he would seal the fate of that woman. Talking to a woman could not only mean her death, but the loss of informants and safe passage for him. Mr. Rosselot was sent home after a massive IED blew up on the other side of a wall. He and a few other men were stuck under the rubble for 45 minutes, injuring him. He is conflicted about whether he regrets his choice of enlisting.
Soon, Mr. Murphy entered the room to tell us his story of his time in the Vietnam War. One thing he remembers vividly is how nature seemed to have adapted to the war. The trees were no longer affected by the bombs. Bugs reached prodigious sizes, too. One time, he recalled, he and his friends heard someone knocking at their door, but when they opened it, a massive bug was flying into it, making the sound. When he mentioned tigers, I asked him to elaborate on his experiences with them, expecting to hear him say that he saw them many times or something such as that. Instead, he told us that one night while he was in a fox hole, a tiger jumped in with him, scratching and mauling Mr. Murphy. He was only rescued when a friend heard him screaming and reached down to help him out.
When Mr. Murphy deployment ended, even America was unkind to him. He was called “baby-killer” and other horrific names. “I didn’t kill any babies,” he said. Despite his mistreatment, Mr. Murphy does not regret his choices because it was not his choice; he simply did what his country asked of him rather than running away like others.
After Mr. Murphy left, we went to Mr. Adams’s room, who is also a Vietnam veteran. He could not speak very long because it was difficult for him to converse while wearing an oxygen mask. Mr. Adams described the hatred that he experienced in Vietnam. He left us with a final warning: never drink out of something if you have not had it in your sight the whole time. He recounted times while in Vietnam where somebody would slip something into their drinks. As terrible as his time in the Army was, however, hatred did not end when he got home. Although he did not get to expand upon this, he had a difficult time with how he was treated, being called horrific things. Sentiments changed over time, and when the Gulf War soldiers came back home, they were treated like heroes.
Leaving Mr. Adams’s room, we came to our last stop of the day. Mr. Richmond is a World War II veteran, and turned 100 last year. He told us about his time in Iceland. The main thing he disliked there was the 24 hours of daylight and then 24 hours of darkness. He used to put up blankets over the windows so he could sleep. He also brought up his family. He has lived to see his great grandkids, whose photos decorate his walls. There were so many pictures that you can not see the white of the wall between any spaces. When asked how many he has, Mr. Richmond said he had too many grandchildren to count.
I would greatly encourage everyone to make the trip that I made with my
AP US History classmates. Although I always had respect for veterans and the sacrifices they have made to protect people like me, I never truly acknowledged the extent of what they went through. Thanks to my teacher Mrs. Shrivalle, I now have a greater respect for these people after hearing their stories. It makes it more personal for me because I can now put a face with men who fought for our country. Taking time out your day to simply talk to them can make their week.