Serve Somebody

It is the tradition of those visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall to leave behind a gift or rememberance at the panel of the name of the loved one. This year I took along a photo of my nephew David and his new sons. These are my father’s first great-grandchildren. David, who is my father’s namesake, and an Iraqi war veteran, tells his sons a pretty good story about how he came to choose their names. Neither one of David’s boys is named after him or after our father. You can read about the choosing of the names here. I think it’s a compelling first story to introduce the boys to their great-grandfather.

I realize that some of you may have grown weary of the postings about Iraq & Afghanistan war widows and families. I suspect that it was too depressing for you to read at times. More than one person wrote to say that the posts had left them in tears.

I know that being funny is a better choice. I only have to take a look at the numerous hits that blogs that are sarcastic, witty, light-hearted and smart-ass get to know that running a week’s worth of war stories is not what the American public wants. 

That said, consider me like that whacked out aunt that comes to your home on Thanksgiving wearing the nylons with elastic at the knees, red lipstick on my teeth, and falsies gone lopsided. I’m a train-wreck but there’s something endearing all the same. You want to look away but the grotesque attracts you in ways you wish it wouldn’t.

There was a reason I was putting up three posts a day for the week of Veterans week. I want you to consider this — if I were to write a story for every active duty American killed in action in Iraq & Afghanistan to date — as of this date 11/11/10 — it would take me posting three stories a day for over five years. Or if I wanted to get all the stories posted in a year, it would require 16 posts a day for 365 days.

Sixteen posts a day about nothing but war widows and children or mothers and fathers, sisters or brothers.

Today at the Wall I was moved to tears many times but the moment when I almost lost it was when three teen girls, about 14 or 15, came up to an old Vietnam veteran. They handed him a letter that they had written. A class project, I suspect.

“We just wanted to tell you that we recognize your service and we want to thank you for that, sir,” the blond girl said.

“Yes,” added the dark-haired, shorter girl. “We really do appreciate all you have done. Thank you, sir.”

The old man, leaning on a cane, fought back tears as he accepted that letter from those girls. When he hobbled off, they turned to each other and began crying. As they turned to leave I read the back of their shirts: Serving those who’ve served.


It is not enough to set aside a day a year to say thank you to a veteran, an active duty personnel or a military family. We need to find ways to serve these people throughout the year.

Whether that’s through the work you do with the homeless, or through the friendships you build at bible study, or through Rotary, or if you’re a teacher teaching the next generation to care about the forgotten one, Bob Dylan had it right — You need to serve somebody.

This is your crazy aunt speaking.


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About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • AF Roger

    …too depressing to read at times…? No apologies. Citizenship is both privilege and responsibility–including war and its cost and consequences. Facing that may be demanding and painful, but it’s not depressing. Avoidance is. Having served is why I continue to serve. It’s one of the reasons why I give a rip. In the words of the David Crosby song, “I feel like I owe it to someone.” God bless those young girls, and the good folks who have mentored them thus far! Don’t we owe it to our kids to do our level best until our turn expires?

  • Ol’ Sponsor

    Happy birthday crazy Aunt!

    • Gary

      That was funny!

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        Yep. That was funny. I’d stay to chat but my falsie just hit the floor.

  • Debbie

    I have read every single word this week Karen and it is not so much that it is depressing in that it is humbling and there are no adequate words to reply to such sacrifices and loss. The young girl who spoke those words – ‘the stuff God see’s’ – was so accurate and your postings this week have been like having a veil drawn aside and I got to see what God see’s in a small way. I just didn’t know what to say. Except what I did say – ‘these lives need to be told’ and I do pray someone publishes your book. I left a song under The Veteran as a small way I could say something through the music of others. It is the only song I have ever heard that made my howl and sob and I was only 17 when I first heard it. I have tried to visit my nation’s war memorial three times and each time I have almost passed out, sudden nausea and I want to vomit – I cried for three days after watching Saving Private Ryan – it is like my soul connects with this ‘essence’ of the reality of war and becomes totally devastated and even that word doesn’t touch the power of the emotion. Maybe my heart see’s the spiritual war we have been fighting since that fateful day in Eden and I connect yet I can’t word what I see and feel.

    • Gary

      How beautiful! You don’t know how much I can relate to this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Debbie: I think in times like you’ve described God has imparted a gift of mercy. You obviously have it. Thank you for caring so much.

  • Gary

    Karen, all of your posts and stories have been amazing. I said this earlier somewhere, but every person has one of these heartbreaking stories. There’s nothing funny about that and you’re covering it in the way it needs to be shown – with respect. Anyone can be a smart ass… But please, straighten out those lopsided falsies.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Well, I’m not sure anyone can be a smart ass. I think southeners make the best ones.

  • JamesW

    This has been great stuff to read. I have not only read it, but commented it on it (disagreeing with you on one thing), recommended it to others, and linked to it on Facebook and Twitter.
    I also like the funny blogs. :)

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      JW: Great stories come from people who live them. Thanks for sharing the lives of these families with so many others.

  • Vasca

    On my blog this week, I posted about my hero, Michael. God brought him safely home to us through two conflicts. I thank God every day for that wonderful gift…and we continue serving others.

  • Jim Martin

    Karen– a wonderful story! Glad you are posting these. You are giving a voice to widows and children of veterans. So important.

    • Gloria

      I second that. So very important. I read this in the paper yesterday and although the author is anonymous it struck me: “A veteran is a fellow citizen; an ordinary person who at one significant point in his or her life made out a blank check payable to the United States of America for any amount up to and including their life.”
      I personally want to thank each and every veteran for writing their checks. God bless you and your families.