With the approach of Veterans Day on 11 November, I as usual have some thoughts – I hope they will give you pause for thought also.
I’m grateful for the “inclusiveness” that now symbolizes Veterans Day. I clearly recall a time when it simply wasn’t so. It always seemed to me that the veterans who served after World War II and before Desert Storm were largely disenfranchised during that time. World War II so impacted the nation that when it ended the entire nation celebrated and those veterans were welcomed home and hailed as heroes.
Sadly, there was no such celebration or welcome for the veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and all the operations after them, until the Gulf War. While the people who served during that time were honored by their families and other veterans, they were hardly the focus of the media and the general public. Veterans Day news coverage in the 1960s was focused on the World War I and II vets. All but ignored were the veterans of the Korean War. Their war certainly had none of the glamor of World War I or II and it ended in a truce rather than some grand victory that the nation could celebrate. Veterans of Korea were always around, but no one seemed to pay much attention to their sacrifices. In the 1970s and 80s, Vietnam veterans weren’t ignored, instead they often suffered cruelly from the mainstream media. They were rarely shown in a positive light, frequently being portrayed as “damaged and disturbed” by a war that also didn’t have a glorious ending.
But it was really those poorly portrayed men who made the biggest difference for all of us who came behind. They did this by drawing attention to the many issues faced by a wounded veteran who was forced to deal with an inadequate and antiquated health care system. Their physical and psychological wounds were really no different from those suffered by the veterans of Korea or the two world wars; however, those problems were now on display in front of the cameras for all to see.
And these veterans did not suffer in silence. They spoke out about their problems and changed the language we used to describe those issues. The psychological trauma suffered in war went from being called “battlefield fatigue” to being recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They brought the struggle of dealing with their traumas out of the shadows and into the stark light of the television cameras, helping the world understand that the emotional damage of war can’t always be left behind in some foxhole or jungle, no matter how much the nation might wish it so. It was these very visible and brave Vietnam veterans who forced the federal government to make the desperately needed changes to the dilapidated Veterans Administration, and to raise its level of care and treatment for those who had sacrificed so much.
Since Desert Storm, the veteran’s stature in society has taken a dramatic upswing. Young and old are welcome to participate in the day’s events and the average American has become much more aware of the cost of a veterans service. As we watch our World War II and Korea veterans reach an age where more care is required, we see our Vietnam veterans stepping into the breach as legislators, administrators, activists, and volunteers. The veterans of the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan are now bolstering the legislation and changes that began with the Vietnam Era veterans.
Where once the World War II veteran cried when he saw the damaged boys from Vietnam come home, now it’s the Vietnam vets who cry for the kids of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. The counseling and assistance are there for today’s vets thanks to the demands of the veterans who came before them.
I appreciate that the current feeling in our nation is that of gratitude – thanks for the discounts, thanks for the parade, and thanks for finally recognizing ALL the service members. Thanks for marking the graves and honoring our fallen. Most of all, thanks for showing some respect for the price every veteran has paid with his blood, sweat, and more tears than anyone who hasn’t walked in his shoes can imagine.
For those of us who served, Veterans Day is a sacred commitment. It is the day set aside to remind us to honor our love, our sacrifice, and our commitment to each other. It is a reminder that the tears we shed are not for ourselves, but for the love of our brothers and sisters. It is also a reminder of the sacrifice and commitment we must all stand ready to give to our brothers and sisters, so that those who come behind us have the care they deserve when their turn comes.
I send my greetings, my thanks, my hopes and my prayers to all my brothers and sisters in arms. May you return safely to those you love, may your memories weigh lightly upon your soul, and may you know that you are forever honored in my heart and my prayers. Thank you all for your service and your sacrifice.