This Veteran’s Day has been in my thoughts all day. Life, unfortunately, got in the way, and left me unable, until now – when it’s officially NOT Veteran’s Day any longer – to put my thoughts into writing.
First and foremost, I think of my Uncle Lester – my mom’s beloved brother – who was a soldier in Patton’s third army in WW II. He was one of the liberators of a Nazi death camp. I remember hearing stories about my uncle from my mom. She told me that he was never the same after he came back from the war. I loved my uncle, and had such respect for him, and the men and women who fought against a great evil. That war had a purpose – the defense of liberty – I think. It was the last such war, and I suspect there won’t be another like it.
Jumping from my uncle, I think about how this holiday – really a day of remembrance – used to be called Armistice Day, to honor those who had fought and died in WW I (the War To End All Wars). My mom talked about Armistice Day, and how it was important to her as a child. She taught me the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In this country, we changed the name to Veteran’s Day, in 1954, so we would also honor veterans of WW II and Korea. Now we have a catch-all holiday, for all the wars our soldiers fight on behalf of…what?
Which brings me to what Veteran’s Day meant to me as I was growing up, in the Vietnam era. The hippie era. The era of confusion and protest. The era of blaming drafted soldiers, who had no choice, for their service in Vietnam. The era of spitting on soldiers as they returned, of not honoring those who died for their sacrifice, for not caring for veterans, who had the same PTSD as the soldiers who came before and after them. I learned to disdain the military. Because of my uncle, whom I loved and respected, I could not disdain the soldiers.
Jumping to the present, I have a friend who is a Marine. He’s served in three tours of duty – two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He did so because he believes in America, and has agreed to protect and serve. He has done so with honor and dignity. I have undying respect for my friend. He has done much to help me debunk my stereotypes of soldiers. I still have very little respect for the men who made us go to war in these places, who – in their hubris – bungled things beyond repair. I have enormous gratitude toward the men and women of our military branches who serve to protect our country in whatever way they are needed. I honor them, on Veterans’ Day, and throughout the year.
I do not let go of my skepticism of the military-industrial complex, which I firmly believe has a lot to do with our ever-present, ill-conceived and ill-planned wars. With equal zealousness, I do not let go of my gratitude for my uncle, my friend, and those who have served, and sacrificed, for this country.
Let’s push our government to help these men and women. It’s a national tragedy that we do not care for them upon their return. They deserve it. They have earned it. We owe it to them.
To my Uncle Lester – I miss you. I love you. Always.