‘Time doesn’t make it any easier’
EAGLE COUNTY ” Pat Hammon heard the news of John Vaughan’s death and the memories came in a flood.
Hammon, who was an Army nurse during the Vietnam War, lost fellow nurses and patients while she was there. She knows all too well how Vaughan’s family and fellow soldiers feel.
“It affects them all,” she said. “It makes them scared. Then it brings home the reality of what’s happening around them. Then it makes them hopping mad. They can’t sleep.
“For the veterans, it brings back memories, big time,” Hammon said.
Those memories are never far from the front of many veterans’ minds.
“I have a friend who died in Vietnam in 1970,” said Mike Mathias. “I still think about him often. Those memories don’t move away, and they shouldn’t move away. What they sacrificed was the ultimate.”
Jean Nunn was an officer in the Marine Corps in World War II, training pilots on instrument flying at Quantico, Va. Talking about the loss of a young Army officer in Iraq, Nunn’s thoughts rolled back to the 1940s. At lunch one day, she thought she saw a familiar face.
“But he looked old, like he was in his 30s or 40s, and we were all in our 20s,” Nunn said. “He finally recognized me. He’d been one of my students and had been sent to Holland. Everyone in his unit had been killed but him.
“It broke my heart to see him.”
Memories like that are why so many veterans sigh so deeply, and are so quick to offer help, when they hear news of another soldier’s death.
“To hear about such a young, creative, energetic young man killed like that, it’s just devastating,” Hammon said. “And you always feel a little twinge of guilt about not being there to help.”
For those still in the service, though, life goes on, as it must.
“It’s part of the job,” said Maj. Joshua Day, commanding officer at the Colorado National Guard’s High Altitude Army Aviation Site at the Eagle County Airport.
“We hate to see it,” Day said. “We understand how young this kid was. It sucks.”
Day and his men are often asked to help local families.
“We do what we can,” he said. “We’ve done notification of families” when other military people have died. “That’s the worst part of the job.”
But, Day said, there’s a job to do, and he and his crew keep doing it.
“We hate to see a soldier die, or get hurt,” he said. “That’s what we train people to prevent.”
While those still on active duty focus on the job at hand, those whose service is behind them have time to reflect on their own experience, as well as that of those now in the service, and, always, the families.
“It’s just heart-wrenching,” Mathias said. “Words don’t cover the pain and sacrifice.”
For some, news of a soldier’s death brings fresh questions about their country’s latest war. “I count one more against the president every time I hear about another death,” Nunn said.
“You like to think he didn’t die in vain,” Mathias said. “But only time will tell.”
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado