By Kelly Ela, American Legion Post 67, Department of Maine
When I exited my car recently at our local grocery store, I was confronted by a gentleman who gruffly asked if that was my car. With a puzzled look I answered yes. The man continued on to say, “Well, I saw the disabled veteran plate and wondered what’s wrong with you. You seem to look just fine to me. I don’t understand why young people like you (get to be) considered disabled.”
It was at that point I decided it was vital to share something that’s been on my mind for years. I, like many veterans, struggle to deal with a disease that is slowly killing me on the inside. It doesn’t matter how fine I look on the outside. The pure ignorance of humanity can take a big toll on some of us. We aren’t always the strong soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coastguardsmen we used to be.
I ignored the man. Instead, I dragged my tall, proud, grotesquely scarred, PTSD-engulfed, medication-filled, bullet hole healed, bloodclot-ridden body with barely functioning kidneys and lungs that happens to be short of a few organs, into the store so that I could feed my family with three small children waiting at home. That, my friends, is why I have a disabled veteran plate.
And this is what inspired me to write the following, The Tall Black Boots.
ATTENN HUTTTT!!!! You step off that bus to the screams and spit blaring from the mouth of the drill instructors and it is at that point, life as you know it just changed. As the days in hell progress, you are all issued a pair of Tall Black Boots.
These boots will quickly become your lifeline and you will never leave without them. You will lace them, shine them, learn how to march diligently and precisely in them. When they get dirty you will clean them and proudly shine them again. You will stand for hours and hours in them. You will do push ups until you puke in them. You will eat in them, you will sleep in them, you will sweat and bleed on them, you will make friends for life in them. They will get wet and give you blisters that make you cringe but you will keep on marching proudly in them. You will train hard and learn to defend yourself and America in them.
They will protect your feet as you carry your weapons, bags and fatigued bodies across the mountains, deserts and oceans. These are the same boots peeking out from under the white cotton cloth of a soldier just killed in the battlefield. The same boots standing atop a makeshift memorial holding the rifle and dog tags of our sister who just paid the ultimate sacrifice. These are the boots of a United States veteran.
All of us wore these boots and stood proudly taking the same oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America for Old Glory. There is no person more proud than a veteran wearing those Tall Black Boots.
As each of us moved through our military careers, we traveled the world. We saw the beauty the world had to offer. We saw the terror and awful sights the world also offered. Those boots stood witness with us. As we fell, they fell, as we advanced, they advanced.
When we deployed, those boots deployed with us; we never left without our boots. We left our husbands and wives, our children and friends. Over and over we left to stand the endless watch of freedom wearing those Tall Black Boots.
As time progressed, each of us were went down a different path. Some of us were injured on the outside and lost or maimed our limbs. Some of us injured our backs and necks. Some of us were burned unrecognizable. And some of us received mental injuries.
All while wearing the same boots as our brothers and sisters.
Some of us were unknowingly exposed to agents and poisons resulting in cancer, and diseases with no cure, all while wearing those boots.
Some of us received injuries so great, that those boots had to be put on a shelf below a flag, never to be worn again.
The one thing that stands true is those Tall Black Boots were worn by every United States veteran, fighting to defend our country. It doesn’t matter what branch of service. It doesn’t matter if they were on the feet of a man or a woman, young or old. At one point they were laced up and cared for with pride like no other.
Our disabilities may all be different and not always seen on the outside. They were all acquired performing the same mission, while wearing those same Tall Black Boots.
So next time you judge a disabled veteran who looks “fine” on the outside, take a moment to look at his or her feet and remember. At one time, he or she strapped on boots for your freedom and is now paying the price with no regret. God Bless America.