(100) Tie-Dye Guy: Making Friends with Veterans

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Swirling orange and blue mixed with red, yellow, and pink snagged my attention. I must have smiled because the Veteran wearing the tie-dye shirt sat next to me in a vacant waiting room with his back to the panoramic view of our 14,000-foot mountain.

All I said was, “Love your shirt—very colorful.”

Tie-Dye Guy opened up to me, sharing his story for the next 45 minutes while my husband spilled his heart to a new doctor behind the wall across the lobby. Tie Dye Guy informed me he recently purchased ten new tie-dye t-shirts at the county fair—something he does every year. His character came into focus, as he told me how his wife built him a shed to become his man cave.

Although he did not speak much of his military service, his year in Vietnam trailed my husband’s by just a couple of years. Philosophical about life, he told me the tie-dye gives him a positive outlook on life.

As I sat in a second waiting room while William visited another doctor, Double-Time Man waltzed over and sat by me. We met Double-Time Man a week earlier at the VA clinic when he admired Molly and spoke briefly about his love for dogs. Having talked with us before about his Air Force service in Korea and Vietnam, he smiled as he described his assignments and units. On this visit, he sat next to me for nearly 40 minutes, sharing his new device to help him hear television. I thought he was waiting for his appointment but when William emerged from the doctor’s office, Double-Time Man got up and walked out with us. I felt touched that he would sit with me and talk without any reason other than to be a friend. His quickened pace uncharacteristic for an 89-year old and his dual service earned him my nickname, Double-Time Man.

That day, I also met three young Veterans, two of whom employed service dogs. All three spoke with difficulty and wore sunglasses inside to protect their eyes. Two of the Veterans shared bits of their stories, including how Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD shattered their lives. I did not pry. I listened.

That day, I left pieces of my heart with the five Veterans, who touched my life. I wanted to cry and offer hugs but I knew that none wanted my pity, my sympathy, or my tears. In fact, they wanted nothing from me. Yet, I left enriched and overflowing with the blessings of meeting these five men.

Whenever I see a tie-dye shirt now, I think back on that day, knowing that stories of sadness and loss lurk inside the VA clinic. Just as the tie-dye shirt swirled with dark and light colors, the stories of these warriors mixed with death and hope. On tie-dye day, shards of brilliant yellow shone through as I saw glimpses into the hearts of the heroes, who fought wars and came back to tell their stories. These five Veterans became beacons of light, reminding me of just how precious our freedom is and how priceless the gift from these Veterans.

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About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.