Monday, November 11, 2013

On Veteran's Day . . .

Veteran's Day is not an easy holiday.

In the 1960s, my sister tried to go to a peace march with her two small children. The kids were then under five. She got as close as a block away from the demonstration. She turned away when she saw demonstrators running towards her with bloody faces.

We were faced with such a deluge of misinformation then. Thousands of people did demonstrate against the Viet Nam War, and the war ended 'early' because of those protests. Thousands more served and came home, forever changed.

In 1975, I married my sweetie, a Viet Nam vet, a quiet, intelligent man who from November 1966 to September 1968 served in the U.S. Army, with 8 months as a combat infantryman in Viet Nam. I came to understand his nightmares and listened to his stories. We went to a veterans' meeting once. Every vet knew where the exits were. Allen wrote a novel based roughly on his experiences. It was not published, but we found our way to rebuilding a good life -- one far from thoughts of war. In this age of self-publishing, I yet hope to bring his book out.

When the Gulf War began, followed by troops sent to Afghanistan, I was saddened by the thought that so many men and women would be affected once again by war. I was teaching then and saw my students come home from those wars with varying degrees of PTSS (post traumatic stress syndrome). One vet had brain lesions from exposure to chemicals; another started talking and couldn't stop. I knew pretty well what those men and women faced.

Today's news celebrated the homecoming of a new generation of vets. Moving scenes of families reunited. To honor this day, I'm sharing what Allen once wrote.

Most people live quiet, ordinary, decent lives filled with daily acts of unremarked kindness and generosity. Most soldiers are also decent people caught in a horrendous situation. As a former combat infantryman, I can attest to the fundamental decency of most soldiers. On a daily basis, I saw soldiers share their food and even clothing with the homeless, the displaced, and begging children. I saw soldiers risk their lives to protect prisoners form the anger of their fellow soldiers who'd just seen their friends die. I saw medics work to care for our wounded enemies while bullets flew all around us. There is nothing heroic or even special in any of that. It is simply part of the basic human decency that is so common -- and that goes unreported.

On Veteran's Day, I think it's appropriate to remember that many who serve in the military have sacrificed in the field and also on their return home in ways that we do not talk about. We trust our leaders to not make commitments without considering these effects that last well past that homecoming day.