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6527212 April 06, 2009

Seven Purple Hearts: An Aberration Story

I learned to depend on others, but I also learned independence--and the importance of both.

To hell with redundancy, I'll say it again.

Aberration Nation is not about world peace, going green, or gay pride. It's not about healing all the ills that exist in our growing culture of materialism and instant gratification. It's about individual self-reflection and optimism. It's making lemonade out of lemons and smiling through our tears, knowing tears are part of package, and that tomorrow is a new day filled with opportunity and greater wisdom.

We've already established that sometimes life sucks. It's unfair. This week alone we're faced with more economic stress, a savage earthquake in Italy, and reports of multiple senseless murders. And in our personal lives, we can't get what we want. We fail. We crawl. We cry. So what are we going to do about it? First, let's all define our own personal tragedy. In other words, let's ask ourselves what the heck is going on in our own lives to illicit such misery? Take a good hard look. Is it really worth all the tears and bellyache? As a brilliant college friend of mine used to say, "Maybe...maybe not."

Sometimes when hit with one of life's crappy blows, I allow myself to wallow in full scale self pity for one day. In many ways, it feels so good to feel so bad. I get to think about all the sucky things life has thrown my way, and all the people who done me wrong. I get to selfishly focus on all my flaws, and consider where they came from. I detox my problem sinuses with tears, and think about how much I hate my allergies, osteoarthritis, and headaches. The sad truth is that some people function like this day after day after day. I did for awhile--years ago--so I know how self defeating it can be. It's a painful journey on the road to nowhere, and when you're on it, it seems like nobody truly wants to come along, pull you off, or point you in the right direction. The only place it got me was a two-day stay in the Intensive Care Unit.

The road to nowhere never ends for some folks. If anyone had a right to take that sad sack road, it was David Christian. I heard Dave interviewed on the Michael Smerconish Radio Show one frigid morning on my drive to the Philly airport. As he spoke, I was completely humbled. I strongly considered that my self-pity didn't even deserve one measly periodic pity-party day to enjoy itself. I contacted Dave that very night to ask if he would like to join the Aberration Nation.

Welcome aboard Dave!

So who is this guy who so effortlessly pulled the self-pity party option right out from under my feet? Dave Christian was the most decorated and youngest American officer in the Vietnam War. He enlisted in the United States Army at age 17. Rapidly promoted through the enlisted ranks to Sergeant, he was admitted to Officer Candidate School and commissioned at 18. Following Officer Candidate school he completed Jump School and Green Beret training. He was promoted to Captain at age 20. Dave's service in Vietnam ended January 13, 1969 when he was severely burned by napalm. He was medically retired from the Army at age 21. For his actions during the Vietnam war Dave was awarded: The Distinguished Service Cross, Two Silver Stars, Bronze Star, Seven Purple Hearts, and Two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry among other medals.

Dave says that participating in any war changes a person for the duration of their life. However, as with any life sucking situation, a choice is made. No one ever said it was an easy choice. As a young man, David Christian courageously chose a road going somewhere, and embraced his painful experiences to forge a life filled with positives. He refused to let those seven purple hearts implode his own. He found a way to incorporate them--and all they stood for--into himself, and his heart is seven times larger for it today. On my morning commute to the Philly airport, I just had to believe that if he could do it, so could I. Dave's words here are brief, but when you know the story behind them, they pack a heroic punch.

You were awarded seven Purple Hearts for your service during the Vietnam War. First, can you briefly define what the Purple Heart signifies, and how you ended up with seven?

The Purple Heart is a unique award created by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War in Newburg, New York. It started as a Purple Ribbon of Merit. During WW I, it was reestablished by the US Congress and Department of Defense to be given for Combat Injuries. In reality the Purple Heart is one of the most unique Awards in the United States. An individual is eligible by an enemy inflicting bodily harm on an American Military Warrior. To earn one or multiple Purple Hearts you must be injured by different enemy weapons or enemy deeds at different times.

When you returned from the war, you were quite young. How long was your recovery and how did you cope?

My physical recovery is a lifetime. You are a Veteran 24/7 and you carry your wounds for life.

Were there specific individuals who made a positive difference in your recovery and attitude, or did your own resolve get you through? Some people have a tremendous amount of help but they still can't seem to pull themselves up when life has knocked them down. Do you believe circumstance plays a role in how we cope in such situations, or does it ultimately hinge on our inner spirit and determination?

My wife and daughter were important. The men in my outfit from Vietnam, "Christian's Butchers" were also a positive factor. In serious disabling injuries like burns, I think people, places, and things all have an impact on one's inner spirit and determination.

Did your experiences in Vietnam play a role in creating the path you took once recovered? If so, can you explain?

Experience in any war will have an impact on one's life for their entire life. Hopefully, they will gain the wisdom to understand that war is always the last resort in resolutions of issues and conflicts.

Now that so many years have passed and your life story has played out a bit more, do you feel that those painful moments in Vietnam ultimately held positives in terms of the man you became and the life you have now?

Absolutely. I learned to depend on others, but I also learned independence--and the importance of both.

Most of us can't imagine being in war, particularly those of us who are part of more recent generations. We watch war movies and the History Channel. We read about the events in the Middle East, but for most of us, it's not as close to home as in years past. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we often take our freedom for granted. As someone who has fought for freedom and stood next to those who would try to take it, what can say to us about America and the many things we enjoy?

Even if a particular day, week or year doesn't go so well, we're still free. From your perspective, how valuable is that? First we must understand that war is not romantic. It's traumatic. America has never given out a Romantic Stress Award for war. However, America does recognize traumatic and emotional injuries. To coin an old phrase war is hell. I believe in the flag, the Constitution, and the men and women in uniform. True warriors want to prevent world 'bullies/terrorist." They are protecting America, their neighborhoods, their families, their churches and their friends. In war an individual realizes that our freedoms had to be inspired by a higher power, and many soldiers recognize that there must be a God behind the men that crafted and fought for America's freedoms.

As someone who has fought for personal freedom--which is about individual choice--what would you say to those who feel victimized in life. In other words, folks we hear constantly saying, "He did this to me, and she did that," and "I can't get a job because they ... blah, blah, blah."

The world is made up of many different people. You will always have the victims. The victims may be removed from the experiences by geography or time but you will always have victims (both real and wannabes).

If you could say one thing to Americans, and have them truly listen, what would that be?

Love and respect yourself, and therefore you can understand respect and love of country.

And I'll just add--it's tough to truly love and respect yourself when you're drunk on tears at the pity party.

To read about David's accomplishments and current activities, go here.

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