Lucas walked through the airport dressed in the new army fatigues gifted to him the morning of his discharge. As he exited the gate, there were no crowds to cheer his arrival home; in fact, there was no homecoming at all and loneliness overwhelmed him.
The army issued back pack was lightweight in comparison to the heavy equipment he had carried on the battlefield. There was no ammo, weapons or rations inside the pack now. Instead it held the few possessions he owned; discharge papers, pictures, letters and insignificant personal items. And loneliness overwhelmed him.
There was no one to call for a ride, so Lucas flagged a taxi. As he flung his back pack onto the back seat, the driver asked, “Where would you like to go, son?” He thought for a few moments and said,
“Someplace where I can get a cold beer and buy a pack of cigarettes.”
“You’ve got it, soldier, I know a great watering hole about a mile from here. The people are friendly and beer is just a buck. Heck, they might even give you a free beer if you share a few war stories.”
As the cab driver pulled away from the curb and sped in the direction of the pub, Lucas surveyed the unfamiliar landscape and loneliness overwhelmed him.
During his eighteen months on the front-lines of war, Lucas had lost both parents to cancer; he mourned their death amidst the graveyard of mine fields and the brutally wounded soldiers that surrounded him. The cabbie’s voice jolted Lucas from his thoughts when he asked,
“Where do you call home, soldier; are you home on leave or here for the long haul?”
The question caught Lucas off-guard. The content within his back pack was all he owned. He had returned home with no job; no parents and an only brother who committed suicide at age twenty. It was after his brother’s senseless death Lucas had enlisted in the military in a desperate attempt to make his parents proud. As he considered the cab driver’s question, loneliness overwhelmed him and he wept.
Lucas pulled a few wadded dollars from his pocket and handed them to the driver. He looked up at the neon sign above the pub and walked into the smoke-filled bar.
“Give me a pitcher of beer, shot of Jack Daniels and pack of Marlboro.”
Cigarette smoke swirled overhead as the jukebox pumped out Vietnam protest songs. As darkness descended upon the city, the drunken soldier stumbled out of the bar in search of a safe place to sleep. It was no different than being on the battlefield. He tucked his back pack beneath his head and found refuge inside a garbage dumpster.
That night Lucas died as an outcast of a war he never wanted to fight. He died alone in a dumpster and no one wept but Jesus. Jesus died alone on the cross and no one wept but God. Both Jesus and Lucas are portraits of outcast soldiers.
Let’s never forget our soldiers who have gone to battle to redeem our freedoms. They deserve more than a pitcher of beer, shot of Jack Daniels and pack of cigarettes. They deserve our respect, honor and thanks.