It is a mild day in July. I have come to the home of a dear friend for his 53rd birthday. His family - most of whom I have not met, are in attendance. Mother, sister, brother and his wife, two sons, daughter, two nieces and a nephew and daughter-in-law have come to celebrate. It is a fine evening and we have all retired to the living room to talk and enjoy good food, drink and company.

All full and content; it is time for the gifts to be opened. Each package is opened one by one. Smiles and thanks are plentiful. At last, down to mine. A box two feet long what could it be? Paper and box-inside a Styrofoam container-careful-do not drop it. Layers of package come away and inside -- a model -- a Huey UH-1B Attack Helicopter. All eyes are on the gift as it is delicately removed from the package along with its display that has a medallion commemorating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

My friend, the Veteran, is silent as he frees the helicopter. All eyes are on him and I am watching his face. We all wait. He has gone away, transported in time by some power to a distant land that still possesses two years of his youth. Two years of horrors untold -- incomprehensible to all but those who served with him -- men who were together but abysmally alone.

His hands -- hands that I have only known to be exceptionally strong and steady -- have a slight tremor as he holds the helicopter. In this fugue-like state he finally speaks. The lost boy has come from afar to tell us a story.

"It is a Huey UH-1B like the one I used to fly in," he softly states. "These guns are M-60s -- if you could see something you could hit it; I used to fire these."

He continues the story by describing how beautiful the land -- wild and remote beyond imagination -- is from the sky. It is beautiful but dangerous and vast. He describes the men who must cling to their gear to keep it from falling out. The men do not want to leave as the choppers line up one by one to drop their human cargo into the wilderness. They must go and quickly. To linger too long is certain death. For the return trip they must carry battle-worn soldiers, injured men and men who will return to their loved ones in a pine box. They all cannot fit inside this refuge from the sky. Some must wait with only their rifles, wit and sometimes one of these magical birds circling to protect them.

The spell finally breaks and my friend has returned to the here and now. He has returned to his family, friends and home - safe once again. All this we take for granted in this great country. It must never be forgotten that many of our finest men and women have paid with their bodies, souls and their very lives to protect and preserve this place we call home.

Semper Fi!