“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause.”
So a couple things. One is that while it may look like I am laughing I am only doing so at the situation, not at the story or what happened as this photo took place. I was surprised, I suppose. And also, that's Chuck in the background running to get his daughter for the photo. In my opinion he is a hero. But I'm jumping ahead as I'm apt to do. Let me begin again.
It was raining today so I took the subway and then the bus to work rather than bike. I was waiting for the subway when a man approached me, it was 6:15am. Keep in mind that the Buffalo subway system can be pretty desolate at that hour (see below photo). I was sitting down and he was sort of imposing, probably 6 feet tall, and he stood a bit too close as he spoke. It made me nervous at first, but then my nerves eased as I stood to face him and he spoke some more. His name was Chuck, he told me, and at first I didn't think he was going to ask me for money. I could tell there was something a bit "off" as he spoke, so I thought maybe he was just making chitchat...asking me if I was from Buffalo, what I did for work, talked of the rain outside, that type of thing. Then I asked him his story, shortly after is when he asked me for money for coffee, a newspaper, and maybe a soda for his daughter, Karen, who he said was waiting upstairs.
Chuck told me he's a war veteran, having served two tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq. He also told me what he did. I never asked for details, he just told me. I can't remember the military jargon he used for his title but basically he traveled with the medical crew and was usually the first on the seen when a soldier or soldiers were down. He would administer shots to the fallen soldiers to ease their pain. "I can't even begin to tell you the pain I saw," Chuck told me. Sometimes, he also added, that that was all they could do was "give 'em a needle to ease their pain."
I have mentioned in previous posts that I personally am a pacifist and that I feel that nothing good ever comes from war, but at the same time I have the utmost respect for the men and women who serve our country. And while Chuck was telling me his story all I could think is that to some he was likely the last face they saw on this earth, just before he gave them a needle; he was their angel.
Chuck talked a lot. He lives at home with his mom and is being treated for PTSD because he is "having difficulty back in civilian life." At one point, when there was a brief break in his story, I thanked him for his service to the country. This stopped him in his tracks. He had rarely looked me in the eye but now he was, and he stopped talking. "Thank you, sir. That means so much to me," is how he broke the silence.
So by this point I knew my train was coming so I gave him $5 and asked if I could take our photo together. Really, he asked. It was the first time I saw him smile. Then he told me about his daughter, Karen, who was still waiting upstairs. "Come on," he said, "I really want Karen to be in the photo," and he began to run taking two stairs at a time. I caught up to him at the second level (there are three levels) and told him the train was coming and if I missed it I would be late for work. So he stands next to me as I ready the phone, and just before I snap the photo he says, "But she's right up there," pointing to the next level and calling her name, and then he darts to get her. Now I hear the train coming on the level below which only gave me seconds to get to it. "Sorry Chuck, I have to go," I yelled to him, and made the train just as it's doors were closing. I looked through the window as we pulled away but did not see him or his daughter.
So this is how I met a hero named Chuck on my way to work this morning.