by Carl Caillier

A flag and a mask can honor our veterans

I’m a former U.S. Navy helmsman on an aircraft carrier from the Vietnam era. I’m also a retired registered respiratory therapist with a unique perspective about the MIA/POW flag and wearing masks in public places.

For me theses two topics are intertwined for people that fly this flag out of respect to those that served during this tumultuous time. Military veterans, especially my age and older, usually have an underlying condition that put us at greater risk in contracting COVID-19.

I’ve hoped to have this flag officially named the “Jeremiah Johnny” flag in honor of a man from my home town of Mobile, Alabama, Jeremiah Denton. He is probably the only person to spend more time in the “Hanoi Hilton” than John McCain. Jeremiah Denton, as with John McCain, also served his country as a Republican in the U.S. Senate.

I joined the Navy in 1972 when this flag was first designed. Most of my generation that served in the military went in as teenagers, whether they were drafted or volunteered as I did. Young folks today, just as we were in my day thought, we were bulletproof. Over 50,000 Americans lost their lives during this 10-year conflict that never had the full support of the American public.

Not many veterans from the mid ’60s through the ’70s were ever treated as heroes. I experienced this first hand while I was wearing my dress blues on liberty in another country. I was called names and spit on. How terribly sad that a suffering POW enduring terrible torture might have this kind of homecoming when he returns.

As a respiratory therapist, I spent most of four decades with newborn babies needing my help to get their first breath and with many, many people taking their last. Nothing I’ve seen can be worse than feeling like you’re drowning on your own secretions while someone tries to place a fairly large tube through your vocal cords while avoiding the esophagus and not causing more harm than good. Talk about torture!

That’s just the beginning of your worse nightmare. The therapist will connect a ventilator to the end of your tube and start looking for an artery to insert a catheter to monitor your blood pressure.

After graduating from the University Alabama-Birmingham long ago, until I retired a couple years ago, I spent a lot of hours wearing a mask. During my time along with millions of health care providers around the world that treated patients with tuberculosis, HIV, Ebola, Legionnaires Disease, flu with different animal names, etc., I can say I never caught one of these infectious diseases.

When Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell can agree on something, pay attention folks: Wear a mask. If you want to honor the military service of all our veterans, especially the most vulnerable, wear a mask. This should be devoid of political views, from port to starboard or amidships.

Action always speak louder than words. A lot of us will see someone wearing a hat associated with military service and thank that person for their service. The flag I would like to see named the “Jeremiah Johnny” is flown all over this great country. Whether flag waving or words thanking, nothing will honor our veterans more than wearing a mask.

We all have choices on how we live. We should treat our bodies as holy temples and always treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Carl Caillier lives in Clermont.


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