November 11, 2013 | Posted in General
The onslaught of advertisements started about a week ago as it does prior to November 11th since retailers decided that Veterans Day-much like Memorial Day- is the perfect connection to sell things-mostly mattresses and tires for some reason. Restaurants have joined in recently with free meals and what red-blooded American male could resist the buxom beauty touting “10 free boneless hot wings” at that bastion of liberty…Hooters?
The flags are flown and tributes given, speeches from politicians and pundits flow forth on this one day a year that recount the courage and commitment of the men and women of the armed forces, those past and present that went to war and never came home, those who went to war and brought it back with them, those who could not shake the atrocities they witnessed and participated in-in the name of freedom. They followed orders, and marched into battle from the first shots in 1776 to the jungles of Vietnam in 1976 and all the wars in-between. World Wars I and II, Korea, from Panama to the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan to Iraq. It’s estimated that upwards of 48 million men and women have put on the uniform and defended America. They walked the Bataan Death March and ate their C-rations out of frozen foxholes in Germany; they carried what was left of their fallen comrades back to an LZ so their remains could be shipped home in a box draped with the flag they fought under. They have been hailed as heroes and scorned as baby killers, emancipators and prisoners enduring the very worst of human behavior, dog tags hanging over their hearts as they were beaten, starved and isolated. The lived in the bowels of steel ships for months at a time or underwater in metal whales armed with nuclear warheads, dug in on the beaches of Normandy and the rubble from a building in Iraq while their comrades fell by their side, wondering if they were they were next to die.
In a day and age where “call of duty” means a video game and the word “war” has become attached to “reality” shows as over produced wannabee stars fight over storage bins and cupcakes, it bears mentioning that simply saying “thank you” to a veteran really is all they ask. Perhaps reaching out the next time we pass one of the estimated 300,000 homeless vets on the street instead of averting our eyes and saying “thank you” might just be the words needed at that moment. Maybe if we didn’t wait for the government to take care of them and we did it ourselves it would mean more. That homeless veteran sitting in on the corner with a sign in one hand and gnarled fist once walked upright and stout, learned how to snap a salute and clear their weapon. They knew their general orders and shined the brass, stood watch and passed inspection. They are someone’s son or daughter, husband or mother, brother or sister.
They are the human fodder left over from another time when their name was on the breast of their fatigues or dress blues. They are the reminder that the cost of a war is a debt that can never be repaid in full.
The movies glorify war, heroes get to come back in repeat roles depending on which enemy they are fighting. In real life, the heroes that took the oath often do not return, and if they do they are not the same as when they left, both physically and mentally. Their residuals are not in the form of money but rather a lifetime coping with the unthinkable, unimaginable moments they have endured.
A fellow I know named George, was at Pearl Harbor when the bombs fell, obliterating his shipmates in an instant. He swam through burning oil and watched in absolute horror has the tranquil morning of December 7th became an iron graveyard filled with broken bodies of young men the same age he was…19. He speaks at schools now, trying to give students whose parents were not even born when he fought some sense of the senseless, bringing history alive as he remembers the dead.
My cousin “The Sarge” waded through the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam, loaded down by his flak jacket and rounds of ammo. Watching as “Charlie” annihilated a bus full of children in an attempt to mow down the Americans. He would come home on leave and pull shrapnel out of his leg with long-nose pliers and after two tours and a Purple Heart, after giving up his youth for a war that could not be won; all these years later he continues to fight his greatest enemy-the effects of “Agent Orange.”
I am proud to be a veteran, I am proud to know George and “The Sarge” and I am proud to have worn the uniform of my country. We can do better for our veterans than mattresses and tire sales, Hooters and 10% off dinners.
We can welcome them home…and find them a home…and simply say “thank you.”