Editor thanks vets for service with Christmas boxes; wishes he could do more

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As a kid I spent a lot of time in hospitals, because my father used to work at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach. Well, I hated everything about hospitals: the smell, the sticky floors, and the depressing atmosphere. To this day, I still get nauseas at mere mention of the word “hospital.”

As a kid I spent a lot of time in hospitals, because my father used to work at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach. Well, I hated everything about hospitals: the smell, the sticky floors, and the depressing atmosphere. To this day, I still get nauseas at mere mention of the word “hospital.”

So, naturally, I felt a little hesitant when Pat O’Toole invited me to join members of the Cypress Woman’s Club and the Tanglewood North Homeowners Association as they passed out Christmas boxes to veterans/patients staying – for whatever reason – at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Long Beach. However, I couldn’t say no to him, not this year, and for a couple of reason.

For starters, I felt like helping the volunteers, some of whom spent hours packing the 300 boxes, which contained some great items, such as TV guides, hats – a favorite of most of the vets – and “thank you” cards hand written by local elementary school students. Secondly, I’ve never really done anything to thank the servicemen of this country, and the time had finally come to pay my respects. And last but not least, I had hoped to potentially run into a friend of mine, a former member of the Air Force and veteran of the Iraq War who checked into the hospital last summer, for reasons I won’t disclose, and then preceded to disappear from society.

I’m glad I went.

All of the veterans, who included a few ladies, loved the boxes. In fact, when two of them were accidentally skipped, they sent another veteran, whose service during the Vietnam War has left him confined to a wheelchair, in pursuit of the cart full of boxes. He probably wheeled himself halfway around the hospital, which is massive, but he eventually caught up and secured a pair of boxes for his brother in arms.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “We all just love these boxes, man.”

Our veterans deserve much more than boxes, though. Just visit the blind ward or the spinal injury ward and you will be left with no doubt. Take it from me. I saw a couple of the wounded veterans, some who couldn’t have been older than 19, with horrifying injuries, which included the amputation of arms and legs – one even Iraq/Afghan vet even lost both of his arms and both legs – a fate so cruel I had to walk out of his room, fearing I might cry. 

Of course there are also the invisible injuries, the psychological scars that all battle tested vets carry and that no medicine can truly cure.

The V.A. Hospital – as it should – makes sure each visitor is aware of these sacrifices.  In one of the lobbies, there’s a photo entitled “This is the price of freedom.” It depicts a group of veterans, who I think represented each of the five military branches. All of them are sitting in wheelchairs.

It’s really amazing how much veterans sacrifice. Even the ones who don’t suffer injuries give up so much, considering they spend months and months away from their families and friends, missing important events, like the birth of their children; and with the War in Afghanistan still happening, thousands won’t be home this year for Christmas. A few of the volunteers became so emotional and overwhelmed that they started to breakdown, cry and left early.

I understood why.

However, the V.A. Hospital isn’t all gloom and doom. There’s even some interesting stuff inside, like old military recruitment posters from the World War I and World War II era. Even though I wasn’t alive until after the end of the Vietnam War, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. I also saw four or five decoration medals, probably purple hearts, framed and hanging in one of the corridors.

Anyway, I am happy to report that every veteran received a box, with about 50 leftovers, but the volunteers graciously left those for the incoming patients. I hope my friend, who I never found, gets one of them, because God knows he deserves it.