My daily commute into Wilmington Delaware is fairly typical. There is the occasional traffic jam to break up the monotony, but otherwise it's the mundane, nothing-to-write-home about drive through housing developments and duPont estate land we mid-Atlantic dwellers love so much.
Like many mid-sized cities, we see groups conducting peaceful protests from time to time as well. There is one particular protestor who has caught my interest lately. So I decided to conduct a little independent photojournalism and have a chat with him. I was delighted when he agreed to be photographed and interviewed, and more so once I got to know his story.
James Napier is a 90-year-old world war 2 Veteran. You would be shocked to believe he is that age when you meet him. His eyes are sharp and clear, he stands straight as a board, and his handshake is like I remember my own grandfather's - proud eye-contact and a firm grip. His military background shines through all his years. He carries a sign with a very specific complaint, but there is much more to the man than this.
In 1942, Mr. Napier entered service for the U.S., and served in the 1st Battalion 11th Marines, which was then deployed to Western Samoa. The battalion participated in the Guadalcanal and New Britain campaigns. It also carried out operations on Finschhafen, Peleliu and Okinawa. The complaint that he protests stems from a fist-fight during the war with his comrades. This type of thing isn't too hard to imagine. Young men tend to fight about things rather than talk. Mr. Napier found himself up against more than one opponent, leaving him with several lost teeth as a result, among other medical issues as he went on to explain.
After the war, he took advantage of the GI Bill and earned a degree in Psychology. He married, had 2 kids, held down a few careers (drove a taxi, was an insurance adjuster, and then a FEMA employee), until he retired.
His issue is with medical coverage which isn't happening due to age-related problems not being "service-related." His take is that they stem from the injuries he suffered during his service, so there should not be a question. Apparently there is a disagreement on this point.
My intent with this post isn't to argue one side or the other, but to give him his voice. Regardless of the specifics of his complaint, to me, this man represents a generation of people who literally fought and died to give us all the freedom to make signs and protest in public. For me personally, the last year has taught me this lesson first-hand, as my family and I wait anxiously to welcome my little brother back from Afghanistan. Every Veteran, young or old, is owed a debt of gratitude for what they have done for us all.
I don't know how this man's struggle will turn out, but I will say this: I respect him for speaking his mind. He has earned that right.
Till next time, shake a Veteran's hand for me.