Today, November 11th, is a day our nation sets aside to honor its veterans. It is a day when people are given the opportunity to honor the dead and the living former soldiers among us who served and sometimes, had to fight, on our behalf.
I have never thought of it as a "patriotic" holiday. I think of it as a time to place emphasis on the individual men and women who served in the armed forces. Not every veteran is a combat veteran, but all vets deserve kudos. For those who served after 1973, when the draft ended, it was a choice to serve. For those who were conscripted to serve, it was a choice not to run. Everyone who served was making a sacrifice. The military life is not an easy life, even if you are never sent to a war zone. Even those who served "in the rear with the gear" deserve honor.
Of course, veterans deserve our attention all year long. Post traumatic stress disorder didn't just start up with the Vietnam war. If you go to a PTSD group at your local VA hospital, you'll find vets from WWII to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan present. Vietnam vets still struggle with their homecoming, still feeling shunned by most of America. While most veterans picked up their civilian lives without much difficulty, some never do get the hang of "regular life" again. Some of those live desperate lives, often homeless, bouncing from one crisis to another.
I have been honored to care for veterans at the VA hospital. Yes, there are the chronic drunks, the manipulators, the malingerers. Every hospital has them! The majority of vets however, became regular citizens and have lead pretty healthy lives. Many Vietnam era vets became the core of the skilled working class; mechanics, truck drivers, auto workers, repairmen, bus drivers, construction workers. Generally they are in their 50s and 60s now, nearing retirement. Some vets moved onto very special things: I have met rocket scientists and pioneers in flight at the VA. Veterans have used their experiences in the services as a jumping off point for their lives.
Dennis Smith, the FDNY firefighter turned author noted in his bestselling autobiography "Report from Engine Company 82" that the safest community is one whose fire trucks are still in the station. An empty firehouse means someone has called needing help and the firefighters have responded. It's an irony I have reflected upon many times when I drive past the firehouses in my neighborhood and see the pumpers parked within--or not. The military is the same way. We are safest when our soldiers are all home, practicing war, not doing war. As a nation we should leave warfare as a last resort. When we chose war, as sometimes we have to, we must go at it with all our heart. I know that his name makes some people foam at the mouth, but I'll take that risk and say that the best definition of what an army does is from Rush Limbaugh. Armies are tasked to kill people and break things. If we remember this, that sending in the armed forces results in death and destruction, perhaps we'll not be so quick to use violence to solve problems.
So this is my thanks to all veterans, thank you for your service. Thank you for saying yes when your country called. Thank you for being brave when that was the last way you felt. Thank your for enduring the drudgery and monotony that is sometimes army life. Thank you for doing the impossible at times. Thank you for the sacrifice of time, and sometimes, of blood. Thank you for preserving freedom (including the freedom to write this blog) in this country. Thank you for being a part of bringing opportunities for freedom to other countries and peoples.
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