For Brain Energy Support Team (BEST) board member, volunteer and veteran, Jim Kelly, it was the story of a small token of caring during the Vietnam War that made the biggest impact on him during that time.
During Kelly’s deployment overseas during the war, he never saw himself as a hero (or as “Rambo” figure, as he jokingly says). Instead, he was a self-proclaimed “geek” who wore thick glasses and served as a warrant officer and radio technician with the Signal Corps. The heroes he admired most were all around him though.
“I remember seeing and traveling near a lot of heroes, mostly infantry solders,” he says.
One day, he and his fellow soldiers encountered a Red Cross tent off in the distance.
“Somewhere near an airfield, I spotted a picture-perfect Red Cross tent outfitted with a few tables and loaded with a well-displayed pamphlets and information, along with drawstring cloth bags,” says Kelly. “The tent was tended by an upbeat Red Cross volunteer.”
Kelly continues, “The volunteer gave me a bag, and near the top of the bag between, maybe a toothbrush and a candy bar, was a small can of WD40 lubricant in plastic. No instructions or explanation was needed. Someone somewhere knew what was needed and how to get it there directly in a very caring manner.”
So what was so special about that small can of WD40? For Kelly and other servicemembers, it meant survival.
During that time, it was known that some of the M16 rifles jammed, primarily due to poor lubrication.
A jammed rifle could have been a matter of life or death, as any servicemember in a time of war can attest.
The Red Cross understood what the soldiers needed; and with that understanding, they were able to deliver those items that made a difference to them and helped them to survive in a difficult and stressful environment.
Kelly still has that drawstring bag today.
“This person or people with the Red Cross remain my heroes. For a long time after Vietnam, I kept that bag in my top drawer with other things I value.”
Kelly, who has been involved with BEST since the organization’s inception, sees the symbolic meaning of his war-era story and the mission of BEST intertwined.
“BEST is sort of like that Red Cross tent, a beacon in a storm for most” he says. “It is open to everyone that comes along seeking information and emotional support.
In fact, BEST volunteers, that are mostly traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivors, give similar bags out like the one I received in Vietnam to new TBI survivors and their families. This is in addition to their main mission, to continue to build support groups around the state of Washington, a function that they have been highly successful in doing.
It is both with joy and fulfillment for me and, I am sure for other volunteers, to participate in BEST. It gives us all a sense of purpose. Knowing that TBI is the signature injury of veterans returning from the recent wars makes it especially important.”
As we take in the meaning of Memorial Day and our remembrances of our fallen American heroes and those remaining heroes and their families that need our help and support today, we can reflect on Jim Kelly’s story of yesteryear.
All of us have the capacity to be that beacon of hope, calm from the storm and those strong and supportive pillars of the tent. Whether our kindnesses are large or small, we have the ability to fill someone’s life with love, care and comfort.
Thank you to all of our servicemembers, veterans and their families, past and present. You hold a special place in our hearts. We’d also like to give thanks for our BEST Team, volunteers and supporters for everything they do to support the cause.
We appreciate ALL of you and your ongoing commitment to service.