Michael Schlitz talked to me about the 30+ surgeries he’s had just on his eyes. Just. On. His. Eyes.
We were talking and visiting in the hospitality lounge at American Airlines Sky Ball and Michael was describing his surgeries to me as we sipped our coffee and it occurred to me that this was now a perfectly normal conversation for me.
Where else can a wounded warrior talk about skin grafts to his eyelids and sutures in his cornea and not have the other person make a face and back away?
The military events we attend bring us up-close and personal to the people we call Heroes. Beth and I were sitting in a hotel lobby in Amarillo with friends after Jack Barnes’ event and here comes Doc Ballard who plops himself right beside me, takes off his Medal of Honor, hands it to me, and asks Beth for a beer. We proceed to have a great conversation about traffic, weather, current events, etc.
I’m pretty sure I had a $#!%-eating grin plastered on my face, because even though that might be normal for Doc, it was a sheer pleasure for me! I was holding his medal in my hands while he unbuttoned his collar, took off his jacket, swigged his beer and was just relaxing.
It’s the same way talking to Bobby Henline, Shilo Harris, Joel Travera, Mike Jernigan, or any other wounded warrior. They have incredible stories to tell, but they also have their day-to-day life-stories to tell. I spent ten minutes just talking to Joel about a cool app that gets you cheap seats on flights. Bobby hates DFW traffic just as much as I do. Shilo jokes about his golf game and that time his ears popped off while trying on a cowboy hat. Jernigan knows all the best restaurants around DFW.
At our Gold Star Parents retreats, we encourage our parents to tell their own story, to share their hero with us, to share the pain as well as the precious stories. Because when you’re stuck somewhere and a stranger wants to strike up a conversation with you by asking what that Gold Star pin is and where can they get one, it’s kind of hard to keep the conversation going by saying the pin was presented to you after your son was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Being able to talk to our military family and peers about the worst day of our life and seeing an expression of understanding and love in their eyes is so very precious to us. I truly hope you get to meet the guys I just talked about.
They like to talk, too.