It’s been nearly 50 years since Mike Koma served in U.S. Army’s 5th Infantry during the Vietnam War. But recently, something happened that took him back in time and completely changed his life forever.
Life Changed Instantly
Mike Koma and his wife Mary live a normal life in a small town in Indiana. One quiet day, he was just having a pleasant time and doing some grocery shopping. But what he read on the note he found completely changed his life forever.
Just Getting Groceries
Koma’s black pickup truck is pretty normal looking. And according to him, he had no reason to think that anything out of the ordinary would happen that day. As far as the veteran was concerned, he was just doing his usual thing. “I went inside to get my canning supplies because I do my hot peppers,” he said. Walmart is Koma’s go-to place where he buys most of his groceries. And in his mind, it was just a normal shopping day.
Brenda’s Got A Story
Brenda Waters reported the story for CBS Pittsburgh. A seasoned reporter, Waters is best known for her catchphrase “have a positive day,” which she uses at the end of every story she reports. But nothing could prepare her for the nature of the story she was covering that day at Walmart. She started the report by saying, “a black pickup truck was parked in this Walmart parking lot here in Indiana…” But what would follow completely took the viewers by surprise…
Special License Plate
One thing that may have made his truck stand out from others was this unique feature. Out of all the other cars that were parked in the Walmart parking lot that day, his was the only one that had a customized license plate that highlighted an important detail about his military past. In bold all caps, the plate reads, “Veteran – United States Army.” To complete the plate, Mike read out the rest of the message, which said “Vietnam veteran.”
A Peculiar Discovery
However, when Koma returned to his pickup truck with everything he needed, something seemed kind of strange. He noticed that something had been placed on his windshield. Naturally, he was worried that while he was in Walmart, an officer had given him a ticket. Had he really parked for too long? It didn’t make sense that he’d receive a fine for being parked for such a short length of time. But when he picked up the note, he quickly realized that it wasn’t a ticket…
So if it wasn’t a parking ticket, what was it exactly? When he touched the note, he realized that it was actually a card. And the strangest thing about it was that the front of it was decorated with a picture of the American flag. What did this all mean? Mike was perplexed, worried what he may find inside. So he took a few deep breaths, prayed that it wasn’t anything too bad and opened the card to see what was written…
Let’s Go Back In Time
But before we find out what was written inside, let us take a step back and go back to the very beginning, 47 years ago to be precise. This would prove to be one of the most important times in Koma’s life. Why? Because it was the moment he started his army service. The Vietnam War was on the horizon and Mike wanted to serve his country. He officially became a part of the Army’s 5th Infantry.
The Vietnam War
In February 1969, Koma flew out to Vietnam to perform his service. There is no denying that, like many others, the war had a severe effect on Mike and his life would never be the same again after such a mind-blowing experience. Some of the things that the veteran saw in Vietnam, he never would have wished upon his worst enemy. It is clear as well, that Mike still feels the pain that he experienced nearly half a century ago.
Nam In Numbers
To paint a clearer picture of Mike’s story, let’s clarify some of the fine details about the war in Vietnam. This was a conflict that technically ran for nearly 20 years. The Vietnam War saw over 2.7 million Americans defend their country and unfortunately, it claimed the lives of over 58,000 people. And although Mike only served for one year, it was still a long period of time to be out there and to him, it felt much, much longer.
The Vietnam War was regarded as the longest, most expensive and arguably the most unpopular war of the 20th Century. And it came at a time when many rapid changes were happening via huge cultural phenomenons such as the Civil Rights Movement. Also, President Nixon’s Presidency was overshadowed by one of the biggest political scandals of all time, the Watergate scandal. There is no denying that Mike went through one of the most tumultuous times in American history.
A Struggle To Move On
When the time arrived to return home from Vietnam, Koma was obviously very excited to be reunited with his wife, Mary and all of his family and friends. But the war definitely affected him in many ways. For example, he lost friends on the battle field and saw untellable things that he’d never be able to unsee. Post traumatic stress disorder is common amongst war veterans, and Mike certainly felt the long term, painful memories of war over the years.
Another issue that the veteran needed to deal with was the stress of facing people who disagreed with the war in the first place. Mike admitted that when he returned from Vietnam, he did not receive any parade or celebration for his efforts. The return was different from previous wars that the U.S. Military had fought in, and the tone was much more somber and confusing. Was the war worth fighting for? Whatever the answer was, Koma was proud to serve his country.
But the most upsetting part of returning from Vietnam was feeling the backlash from the American people. Many soldiers, including Mike, were on the receiving end of some intense scrutiny in light of their service. To feel like the people who you were protecting did not appreciate your efforts and sacrifices must have been a huge blow. “When I came home from Vietnam I flew into the state of Washington,” he said. “People were spitting at us and calling us ‘baby-killers.'”
Shrouded In Controversy
The war was controversial in the U.S. as it seemed like everyone had a strong opinion on the matter on either side of the coin. You had those who were adamant that this was the right move to make, that any exterior threat must be confronted head-on. But then there were many who were vehemently against the war. Peace activists made nationwide protests and to this day, the war remains a contentious topic. But it was different for Mike…
People like Mike who served during the war did not have the luxury of sitting back and voicing an opinion. The soldiers were on the front line, and the reality was that for the military, they were in a situation where it was either fight or die. But the straightforwardness of war didn’t comfort Mike or protect him from the scrutiny of the people he was trying to save. He had no idea how deep the pain would go…
Years Of Pain
For this veteran, those strong words of criticism and accusations felt like a sting that could never heal. For the good part of fifty years, Mike sat back and reflected on whether or not his service was worth it or not. Was he better off staying at home, working and being with his loved ones? This question plagued his mind for many years. But ultimately, he just wanted to feel like the American people were grateful for his service.
In all of his years since completing his service, Mike had not received one piece of positive recognition for the contribution he made for his country. Not one phone call, not one letter. Nothing. Although he tried to get on with his life and have a quiet, peaceful retirement with wife Mary, he could never get over the fact that public never acknowledged his service. But Mike found comfort from other aspects of his Vietnam experience.
The Power Of Nostalgia
Mike took much comfort looking back on the positive memories of his experience in Vietnam. He made many friends during his service and just looking at photos of his younger self, in his prime, was a sight that brought a smile to his face. Although Vietnam gave Mike some of the darkest moments of his life, it also brought some of brightest, and funniest. There was nothing more he loved than to fool around with his fellow soldiers.
You know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. And as he ran through his photo album with Brenda Waters, it was very clear that for Mike, they meant so much more. Every photo told a unique story about him or the people that he lived with during his time in the army. From comedy to tragedy, every image had a feeling attached to it. However, for the veteran, looking back was taking its toll on him…
Back To The Present
Which takes us back to the present day, and back to that Walmart parking lot. Mike just returned from the store and there he was, with the card in his hand. “I found a note right under this wiper here,” he said in an interview. Before Mike opened the envelope, he realized that it had been a long time since he had touched upon anything related to this chapter in his life. But one question remained…
Who Wrote It?
It was obvious that the card was from someone he had either never met before, or at the very least was someone he hadn’t seen for a long time. The nature of the note was pretty formal. On the envelope simply read the words, “Dear Vietnam Veteran.” And Mike was sure about one thing: whoever wrote him the letter must have noticed the license plate saying ‘Vietnam Veteran.’ Otherwise, how on earth could they have known of his involvement in the war?
An Incredible Feeling
After spending a few minutes reading the note over a few times, the veteran began to feel something he hadn’t felt in a long time. “That just teared me up,” he said in regards to the note. The message brought Mike to tears. Quite simply, he couldn’t contain his feelings as a result of what he was reading. But what was it that elicited such raw emotions? Whatever it was, it must’ve awoken something deep inside the veteran’s heart.
Dear Vietnam Veteran, thank you so much for your service in the United States Army, in Vietnam. You, sir, are a hero in my eyes and the eyes of many Americans. These were the words that Koma never thought he would read. After all this time, no one put into words the sentiment that he was so desperate to hear. He craved the recognition of having served his country and making his home a safer place. He read on…
Wait, There’s More
Thank you and your family for your sacrifices, honor and courage. Thank you for my freedom. This was the icing on the cake of what turned out to be a life changing experience for Mike. He was always proud of his contribution to the U.S. army. But now, someone had gone out of their way to show him their appreciation. He never thought he’d feel so happy to read such kind words. But still, who wrote it?
As he read to the end, Mike finally found out who wrote him the beautiful note. Sincerely, Cindy Twigg. Cindy Twigg? He thought. The name just didn’t ring a bell. Maybe it was someone he bumped into all those years ago and always want to pay their respects to the veteran, somehow, some way. But then Mike was reminded: the license plate. Someone must have noticed the plate and realized that this was someone who defended them all those years ago.
The Love Keeps Coming
To make things even sweeter, Cindy gave Mike a big salute on the other side of the card, saying God Bless You, Sir! And God bless the United States of America! I fly flags of all our armed forces proudly! The message gave the veteran so much strength and as he returned home, he was excited to share the experience with his wife, Mary. She also couldn’t believe that he finally got the recognition that he deserved.
But that wasn’t enough. Mary believed that two things needed to be done. Firstly, she wanted to find Cindy to thank her for such kind words. And secondly, she wanted to share this beautiful story with the rest of the world. So Mary took to social media to spread the message. “I put it on Facebook, hoping somebody would know her,” she said. As of yet, the couple haven’t found Cindy online. But they hope that they’ll be able to.
A Loving Wife
Ultimately, Mary just wanted to make the most of this fantastic situation. After so many years of sleepless nights and trauma, she was desperate to capitalize on this opportunity. Whatever she could do to make her husband happy, she would do it. In regards to the letter, she knew how much good it did for Mike. “It made him feel really good,” she said. “I just want to see him heal from this war.”
A Grateful Veteran
But Mike is totally on board with his wife’s idea. Like Mary, he would like nothing more than to meet up with Cindy and give her a big hug for lifting up his spirits the way that she did. “I’m going to thank her for that,” he said. “I mean, I’m going to ask her how many times she does that. I just couldn’t believe it.” Mike couldn’t help but laugh after saying this. One thing was for sure: he was very happy.
New Lease Of Life
Whether they find Cindy or not, nothing will take away the sheer gratitude that Mike has after receiving such a heartfelt note. The letter has given the veteran a new lease of life and he can now go on with his life knowing that there are people out there who truly appreciate the sacrifices he made for his country. Rereading the note, he said emphatically, “God bless you sir and God bless the United States of America!”