The conversation started, as most do these days, with him asking me what happened to my foot. He was an old man and a veteran, as were all the old men here at the hospital but unlike most people, he wasn’t surprised when I told him how I’d been injured.
“I took one piece of shrapnel here,” he said, pointing to the side of his mouth. “Blew part of my face off from here to here,” he gestured from the corner of his mouth to his jawbone.
“Wow,” I said, as any more significant words escaped me. I looked closely at his face and noticed for the first time the large dimple that extended from the left side of his mouth, I hadn’t even noticed the scar until he mentioned it and I told him as much.
“Yeah, most people don’t,” he replied.
“When did it happen?” I asked. I didn’t know the man’s age but I was guessing Korean War, or possibly Vietnam at an older age.
“1945” he said. He didn’t look like a man near 80. I was surprised. I’d never met a WWII combat vet before.
“Where were you at? “ I asked.
“A little Island in the pacific called Iwo Jima,” He said.
I listened intently as he described the type of land mine that had wounded him; how you could tell by the thickness of the lead casing whether they were anti-personnel, vehicle or armor and what he’d seen one of the big ones do to an M-4 tank, and what the one that he met did to him.
“What most people don’t realize,” he said finally, “Is that it’s not the getting wounded that hurts the worst, it’s the recovery.”