Veterans Day traditionally falls on November 11th, except when it falls on Sunday. This year we’re celebrating Veterans Day on Monday. I have a confession to make, I’ve never celebrated the holiday or the reason behind it. Not even when my son was commissioned in the Navy.
Despite having a family tree cluttered with veterans, both those that came home and those that didn’t, we never celebrated or talked about Veterans Day at home. I could go into excuses that I was a busy nurse married to a busy policeman, but in the end it would be still be an excuse. I have wondered if my hospital had recognized Veterans Day as a holiday if it would be different, but I suspect not. I could blame my parents because they never celebrated the day, ergo, neither did I, but that would be just another excuse.
Strangely, eight years later when my son is leaving the Navy, he taught me a lot about the reason behind Veterans Day. We went on a battlefield tour of the Civil War’s western campaign in the middle of a July heat wave. He’s hardcore; this means you tromp the battlefield from all directions as the battles unfolded. We didn’t do the CD tape tour and drive through the battlefield parks like the majority of tourists. We walked them, and somewhere in the middle of the trip, I began to adopt the troops from both sides.
I began to care about them although they were long dead. Hiking across fields of wild flowers, being buzzed by flying insects, I thought about their hopes and dreams. I’d wonder if they sat under the same trees I stood under reading a letter from home. Sometimes a brave regiment I’d been following, suffered unbelievable losses, and it choked me up when I discovered it. I had crazy moments, which I attribute to borderline dehydration, of actually hearing horses stomping, the sounds of men talking, and…
The Civil War left behind battlefields, actual battlefields, where Americans fought, suffered, and died. As Americans we can visit these parks, most are pristine, calm, and beautiful. Most of us can’t trek to Korea, Vietnam, or anywhere in the Middle East. All we have are the few battlefield sites left behind in our own country. Battlefields are good places to reflect about war and its aftermath. The Peach Orchard at Shiloh Battlefield sounds pretty, doesn’t it? What happened in that field is sobering, you can read about it but when you’re actually there, and can see the cannon lines, the terrain, and the lack of water available to men and horses, you glimpse a new perspective.
I learned that once the soldiers took the field, they weren’t fighting for political reasons, they were fighting to live, fighting for the war to end, fighting so they could go back home and marry the women they loved. Don’t believe me? Read their own letters.
In a book I’m writing a character states, “Courage is a fickle emotion.” This may be true for civilians, but not for people in the military. When you put on a uniform you’re putting on a target. It takes courage to have hopes and dreams for a good life and then put your body in harm’s way. I’ve learned harm’s way takes a high toll.
Too often that young body comes back handicapped. Or the mind that once had big dreams becomes cluttered with a stygian darkness that sucks the color out of life. Are the words “thank you for your service enough?”
In this article, a few soldiers mention how uncomfortable it feels when civilians thank them. The military is now a volunteer force, although one could argue there is an economic draft leading some into the military, but these people aren’t sent kicking and screaming into boot camp. Heck, the military even has its own TV channel. They receive good pay for doing their job, so the question is should we thank them and how should we do it?
First, I think the soldiers might feel some of the thanking isn’t authentic. Well, would you thank a doctor if he hadn’t operated on you or someone you cared about? Don’t think so. When was the last time you thanked a fireman? So why would you just walk up to a soldier you don’t know and thank them? Maybe if civilians hiked a civil war battlefield they would sense the true scope of the loss as I did.
Civilians think that when veterans come back home that they have left the battlefield behind them. No, sorry. They carry it with them for a very long time. Battlefields leave scars not just in the dirt, but in the psyche of the soldiers that fought on it. Traumatic memories are deeply imprinted in our minds and that is a know fact. I think all battlefields, those left in the heart and those on the ground, have one thing in common–it takes time before pain becomes peace.
To honor our veterans let’s give them what we (the country) promised. Let’s don’t make them fight another battle at home to get the benefits they earned. Let’s honor them by holding the line on Congress critters out to make budget cuts: Let’s say as a group-No!
Or take notes from my cousin, Bill Davis, a Vietnam veteran-activist that fought for “the promised” benefits during the unpopular war that is quickly fading from memory.
1. Civilians should stand the watch tower. Don’t let Congress pull their promised health care benefits away because we’re in a fiscal cliff situation. Well, Congress put us on the cliff, demand they forfeit their health care benefits, to be one with the veterans until the country can honor their promises. Draw the line, people, thank the troops by keeping the promise of health care benefits. No blinking. Stand up, and don’t let it happen like it did to the Vietnam veterans.
2. For just one year give all your charitable donations to injured soldiers and their families instead of saying “thank you.” Let a money ball speak for you. Building homes for handicapped soldiers is a good place to start. They need to come back into communities and not be warehoused. Remember, veterans dream of coming back home when their tour on the battlefield ends.
3. Take the stupid decals off your cars. It’s an empty gesture. Demand there be no more wars until Congress has the balls to actually declare war. I for one want to see the vote on TV. The reason they don’t declare war is so they can withdraw benefits in the future. One day a veteran will be told the War on Terror wasn’t a real war. Never mind they left behind blood and body parts, it isn’t a declared war. It’s criminal we let Congress get away with taking the cowards way out and not actually voting in public for war. Let the new motto be: Not This Time.
4. If you don’t want to stand the watch tower or write your congress people then in 2014 vote for veterans on the ballot. They can shame the others into keeping the promise of health benefits.
5. Support local community efforts that help veterans. I for one don’t want to see the homeless populations swell with returning veterans, do you?
6. Consider going to a veterans cemetery. They are shocking to behold, so many lost on the same days. Or check out the parades in your city.
7. On Veterans Day join me for a personal prayer, a meditation, a quiet lesson, whatever you wish to call it–and take five minutes to wish for peace to wash across all the battlefields, those on the ground and in the heart, rain drops of peace falling because rain in the desert brings new life, a sense of awe, and most of all, it brings an awakening in the human heart that a simple thing like rain can bring such magnificent change. Peace is serenity; not an antonym of war.