AF retiree shares emotions for veteran through poetry

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- As the nation prepares to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday weekend, one Team McConnell member has taken time out to also reflect on the story of a local, homeless Vietnam veteran who passed away a little more than a year ago.

After reading a local newspaper story about a 50-year-old, homeless veteran who passed away from health problems as a result of dealing with mental illness and battling alcoholism, Air Force retiree Ronald Purdie was inspired to write a poem about the plight of homeless veterans across the country.

The poem, titled "Barely Known," is about a person who is someone to somebody - a child, brother, father or maybe even a grandparent, said Mr. Purdie, a 25-year Air Force veteran who was stationed at McConnell with the 384th Organizational Maintenance Squadron, for two years; the 384th/22nd Transportation Squadrons, for four years; and the 22nd Civil Engineering Squadron for six years.

"He committed himself to a belief for freedom for his country and fellow man," said Mr. Purdie. "Yet, when his day came for honor, respect and dignity, he just about became a nameless statistic."

Such was the story of Ronald Hughes, who lived his last few years on the streets of Wichita. He had no known relatives living in the area and was "just about to be another statistic of the Vietnam Era veteran - shuffled under the paperwork of society," said Mr. Purdie.

The article said a team of people got together and contacted the Veteran's Affairs Department's homeless veterans program about Mr. Hughes. Carrol Everist, an Army veteran who served in Korea, spearheaded the case that all veterans should have the full honors and dignity of a military burial.

"This article kept coming into my thoughts, first of how everyone came together in their own way to make sure a fellow veteran was given a proper burial with military honors and second of how someone can get lost in the system. This is where "Barely Known" began to materialize in my thoughts," said Mr. Purdie.

"If it weren't for a few people investigating and pulling together, Mr. Hughes might not have received the last honors with the respect and dignity that any servicemember would be proud of," Mr. Purdie said.

And, pride of service, the price of freedom and sacrifices of fellow veterans - Vietnam-era or otherwise - is what Mr. Purdie tried to capture as the essence of "Barely Known."

Editor's Note: Mr. Ronald Purdie was inspired to write this poem in honor of a deceased, homeless war veteran, Ronald Hughes.

By Ronald Purdie
Retired Air Force

Barely Known was a simple kid growing up in Any Town, USA.

Enjoying all the simple things in life, filled with new ideas and making new inventions.

As a child, Barely Known had many meanings of enjoyment, from those warm lazy sunshiny afternoons of hiking, biking, swimming, and camping with his child hood pals; to those cold wintry evenings by a cozy fireplace reminiscing memories of loved ones and making new friends and relationships.

Barely Known attended the Any Town local schools, graduating with honors and achievements.

Barely Known was an outstanding citizen in his community.

Over the years, Barely Known expanded his education, and developed life long-skills and traits.

A personality so unique, that only he could possess. His skills and traits were unique, because they were the values and personalities Barely Known learned from his parents and every person whom he encountered and cared for in life.

Fulfilling a call to preserve freedom and democracy, so that all can live in peace, Barely Known became a member of a unique group of individuals.

Barely Known became an American Soldier, a member in the Band of Brothers for life.

A unique group of individuals striving for a common goal, freedom for all mankind.

Today Barely Known paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life for what he believed in.

Let us remember all those Barely Known's, in our life with Honor, Respect, and Dignity.

Let us not forget the ultimate sacrifices these people paid, so we can live in Peace and enjoy our Freedoms.