Mr. Bojangles was Really a Hero in Disguise


The power of the preconceived notions that had developed within the darkroom of my mind caused me to miss the obvious first clues. I erred as I denied what I really saw before me. The old man who greeted me simply did not fit the clinical picture that I thought I saw, and was supposed to see, even though I stared straight at him. The written information stated the old man, who pushed really hard on 90, tended to drink more than he ought. “Excessively“, the papers said.

The wiry-framed man lay dressed in scant more than mere quiet dignity as he stretched out upon the operating room table. For some undisclosed reason, it just seemed he did not fit the stereotypical hard-drinker profile. He patiently waited upon me to finish my final preparations of magical medicines, powerful potions, and to complete the connection of the required monitors that would soon assist me to render him insensible to his surroundings and asleep into the “Never-Never-Land of Propofol.”

Our conversation continued and I acknowledged with some surprise his clarity of thought and speech that exceeded my expectation for his age and supposedly perpetually inebriated condition. I gave pause once again as I also considered his glaringly contorted arms that lay outstretched in a symbolic, cross-like fashion, suspiciously covered in scars that smacked of the work of knives, many knives that marred not simply in a superficial style. Rather, his arms revealed deeply eroded, carved caverns which had been hewed out of what remained of his sparingly defined muscle layers. This noteworthy evidence in conjunction with my record that stated his tendency to be a “Mr. Bojangles” who “drinks a bit”, made me assume these scars testified a visible war record of many, many bar room brawls and knife fights of younger years.

So I asked the question that had invaded and continued to haunt my previously, biased mind… “Those look like old knife wounds on your arms… uh, what happened?”

In a surprisingly, dignified, (and I perceived an almost defiant manner), the old man answered, “They are knife scars. Most are anyway.” But he was not forthcoming to confirm the details of my suspicions that had already yielded my foregone conclusion of a guilty condemnation and the “just” reasonable consequence rendered upon the old drunk for past foolish behavior.

So I asked the question again, refusing to be satisfied with anything less than the best of the worst so I might more easily exalt myself over and above him in a self-righteous satisfaction all at his expense. And before I knew it, the trap was lightly sprung, and I found myself wading off into the deep snare a of dark history that was to flounder me in abject humility. It was as though the old gentleman himself unwittingly and carefully assisted me to tie the millstone about my neck as I insisted to the point of intrusiveness, “But how did you get so many knife wounds?”

In a gentle, almost surreal tone he answered quietly, but loud enough to resound as thunder throughout the hum and activity of the OR, which suddenly ceased as he uttered these words, “I was a POW.”

Momentarily stunned by this revelation that seemed to hang in the air near half an eternity, I finally managed a pathetic sound that was supposed to come out something like, “Uh, where, uh… where were you?”

“I was a POW in Germany for ten and a half months during WWII.” And then visions of atrocities beyond my imagination flooded my brain and burst upon my sight as this old hero and warrior who lay before me, quietly trusted me to do him good, not evil, as he drifted off to sleep. My knees were literally weakened and my body gave a visible shudder as I pondered this quiet declaration of war upon my pride and arrogance. I then briefly shared a story from my VA days of an old veteran volunteer who helped out there, and who had actually survived the Bataan Death March. This old grizzled warrior looked at me and simply said, “Now that was really a hard thing to do.”

I smiled as I looked at his scars again, and then thanked him for his superior service to our country, above and beyond anything I had ever done or conceived of doing. Then I repented to my God for my erroneous view and sinful disdain of a true hero, whom I initially identified as a simple drunk bearing marks of the consequences of riotous living. But in truth there lay before me a real-life American hero who actually bore in his body the marks of my freedom. I took excellent care of this old gentleman, my true hero, who once endured much hostility for me, (and many others), that we might continue to draw breath in a free land until this day.

God bless America. And God bless those whose hands You have trained, (and those You still train), for war that we might live in peace and liberty to know and worship Thee. And let us not forget… thank You for the right to write in English… not German, and thank you Jesus, by all means, that I did not have to learn Japanese!

Well it’s the Fourth of July in a few days. This true account seems appropriate.
My son, Stephen Paul Vining, is currently being trained in the art of war at Ft. Benning.
Please pray for him and for all others training to fight freedom’s fight.
May we never forget those who guard the line that we might live.
Pray most especially that he and the others might know
the nearness of God for their good..
July 1, 2012


My son did WHAT? He’s in the ARMY NOW!?!?

To recall a Day back in December 2011

I’m sorry. Excuse me. I really do struggle with hearing rightly these days. But I thought you said… but no, that couldn’t be… I know you didn’t just say, you couldn’t just say, my son, my baby, my Stephen, has dropped out of a “free” college education in a relatively safe environ, and joined “This man’s Army.” No, that can’t be. Pinch me. Shake me. Wake me. This nightmare seems all too real.

Remind me again, why did I swear off strong drink? I seem sense a need for something warm in my hand, that transmits its resolute way from gut to heart as it anesthetizes me with pseudo-courage in its attempt to dull my perception of loss of control. Of loss of my son. Of a heart departed. Of a home splintered by pain of applied parenting as children mature, grow. As they Leave.

O God! How the mighty, (and faint alike), have fallen! Mind spinning. “Who’s on first?” ” What’s on second?” Who’s in charge? What’s happening here? What’s that 60’s song… “War! Huh, Yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”

Wow! From whence did all these thoughts and fears awaken and arise? Are we still at war? Wars, you say? How long have we been there? Why are we there? Where is there? What did we learn from Charlie Wilson’s War? What did the Ruskies learn? Is this winnable? Is what winnable? For what are we fighting? Pseudo-peace? Where is Fort Benning? Is Georgia in the continental US? Didn’t “What’s-His-Name” make a hollow statement about ending all wars in that God-forsaken land of the Middle East? What was purported a Garden is now an Abomination of Desolations. So it seems… So it seems…The very mouth of hell itself?

(God, are You there? You are on the clock, aren’t You? Where is “There”? I need help “Here”. Remember me? And my son? The one You have used to teach me to pray? Yes. That one. That one so much as I in so many ways that I sometimes give a free pass cause I understand so well the inner turmoil.)

My son? My only son whom I have loved, yet failed so frequently and so miserably, in the “Father-School.” My great discovery of Self… some tests and tasks shall I forever be inadequate and ill-prepared for. Parenting is one… Parenting… a true OJT enterprise.

No, Stephen is not my only son, but so it seems today. Wow! Wasn’t it just several days ago when I witnessed him in the buff, being towel-dried, screaming that first cry to the heavens, as mom lay rendered insensible to the world, and to the new life just risen from her womb? But then, mom had not so chosen to intentionally miss this momentous event. She lay with belly splayed open and an ET tube sprouting from her throat, as an even greater participant in the miracle than I. She still bears the scars in her body. Yesterday, wasn’t it? So it seems. Images burned indelibly in my pea brain. Blood pressure 60ish, yeah Hespan sounds a good plan. How ’bout NOW! That is MY WIFE, this screaming boy’s fussing for. Fix her. So she can see her firstborn son. And they did, and she did. And she does.

Now fix us. Help us. Son 1 leaving? Or rather our living testament that God brought us together as husband and wife; now this image bearer, our own Stephen Paul Vining is leaving. And he bears our heart in his backpack. Does he know? Probably not. That comes with time and separation and grey hair.

Another chapter in the saga of a new life filled with exciting change, and the other continued life of unstable stability, that seeks to overcome pain of loss.