I spent most of my life in a tourist town, so when Memorial Day weekend rolls around, I retreat to one of my secret locations to avoid the crowds. And while I was too young to get drafted during the Vietnam War, I know plenty of good men who were not—a couple who are dear friends and fellow hunters.

So I have developed a deep respect for these men and for all the men and women, including my father, who sacrificed so much for our freedom. Remembering to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice is what this day is for, and it was at one of my “secret” hideouts this weekend that I had the honor to thank a couple of veterans who had the same idea as me.

Now when you’re in the deepest of deep, dark woods, thinking that no one will ever find you, and all of a sudden a couple of bearded, cammo-wearing, pistol on the hip, cold-eyed fellas come walking into your camp, you tend to search your mind for where you put your own pistol and why it’s not on your own hip. This was one of those times. All I could do was watch and wait while they approached, looking more and more sketchy with each step. But, I was relieved as their cold eyes softened and smiles appeared through their thick beards.

“I see you found our favorite spot,” the big one exclaimed. “You’re in luck fellows, I was raised to share my good fortune with others,” I replied. And it was good fortune that I had the opportunity to get to know a little about these two fine men over the next 24 hours.

They grew up in the same southern county, attended rival high schools, both got a draft notice and both got shipped to Vietnam where they were assigned to the same unit. And although they weren’t related by blood, they became brothers during the time they spent together far away from home, engaged in a war they still have trouble understanding.

What I came to realize and respect, aside from their harrowing stories of that war, was that they were a lot like everyone else who escapes to wild places for solitude and reprieve, myself included. That, although they suffered immensely and had wounds that will never heal, they found healing in nature. But it is more than that because what I respected the most was their reverence for the wild and the idea that It needs to be protected. I couldn’t agree more.

Up the canyon, it sounded like a war zone as guns of all sizes were being fired into trees and empty beer cans and I noticed a subtle sadness between my two new friends. I remember passing a camp where about a dozen “weekend warriors” were drinking around a huge bon fire. Lots of ATV’s, cammo and noise. “Those guys have no idea what life’s about,” one of my friends said, as he returned to the stick he was carving. “You never know how precious and peaceful the woods are until you spend a year in the jungle avoiding bullets aimed at you.”

As they meticulously cleaned up their camp and restored it back to the untouched state it was in before they arrived, I thanked them for their wisdom, their companionship, and their respect for nature. As I headed back to my own world, I stopped to pick up the garbage left by the rowdy group of campers who kept us up all night. I thought about the two humble veterans and thanked them again for showing me the only good side of war I’ve ever seen.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons