No. of Recommendations: 60
I first met the boys at the VA in Albuquerque where I was spending three years in residency. Our clinic was high on the 6th floor and overlooked Kirtland AFB. The VA is a vast megalith of a hospital, that tries to take care of the vets, but throws up such huge walls of paper and is so hopelessly understaffed, vets can wait forever for things to happen. We were better than most. The average wait for an appointment was less than 3 months.

The boys would wait for us on their hard orange plastic chairs, lined up in a row outside the clinic in the hall. There were no magazines, no TV, no radio, no distraction of any kind. Just the long dull wait. But they usually passed the time swapping stories about the war or about ranching and never complained about the time.

Most of our guys were from the Greatest Generation-WWII. The war had been over for more than 50 years, but they still told the stories. And the stories were amazing. We had boys from the Bataan Death march, from the European theater, from the Pacific, from Africa. They flew bombers and were in submarines and were landing on beaches. I call them boys because through their stories, you no longer saw the 70 and 80 year old men they had become, but you saw the young, lean often terrified young boys they had been; plucked from the ranches and towns of southern New Mexico and put out into a strange, violent and foreign world.

They had old-fashioned names like Floyd, Alvin and Herbert. They had simple unassuming names like Tom, John and Don. And they were like their names--old-fashioned and unaffected. They didn't complain about the misery and terror that was the war just like they did not complain about the wait in the hall. They never felt put upon by the nation or the VA.

We first year residents were inexperienced and clumsy. The boys didn't complain about us any more than they complained about their service to the country. Imagine the courage it takes to let a first year resident with a razor sharp scalpel take a skin cancer out from under your eye. Instead of asking for the attending physisian to handle it, I don't know how many time I heard:

"It's OK honey, you just do what you have to do. I'm not going to be in any beauty pageants."

Now, seven years later, I am lucky enough to have some of the same boys with me, but they are disappearing. Most of them are in their 80's or approaching it. And too many time a year, I see their obituaries in the paper or a lonely widow tells me of their passing. Its a sad thought to know that some day none of the boys will be in the waiting room.

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