November 11th is Veterans Day in America. Originally it came from Armistice Day, which we celebrated the end of the Great War (now just called WWI) which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918. Interestingly enough the last casualty recognised in the war was actually an American which was the last country to enter the war. In terms of tonnage used one can easily argue that not only one but several nuclear bombs were dropped over the Western Front in the form of weeks long artillery barrages. Gas Warfare, Trench Warfare, Disease, unbelievably high casualty rates, all but forgotten when just 20 short years after the war ended Germany decides they want round 2.
It seemed a little silly to celebrate the end of a war that was little more than a prelude to another even more terrible (as if that were possible) war. So Armistice Day became Veterans Day. Now veterans from all wars are recognised together, and to some extent I think that’s actually a good thing, because despite the change of tactics, the Soldier is essentially unchanged. Look into the eyes of a soldier from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, and there is something stark, and painfully similar. the haggard weary but resolute look is something you don’t forget.
Eventually the war ends. Eventually the veterans of the war come home, or the empty caskets are buried in their place. The reaction that they receive is often varied and not at all consistent. In WWII The country was overjoyed, and loved its service members, in Korea, the returning service members came back to a country that didn’t seem to know that there was a war on. Vietnam veterans were initially distantly accepted, but then openly scorned. After Desert Storm all veterans are lionized and they are treated like heroes. The problem is that despite what Hollywood might tell you, there are very few if any rousing victories. There are hardly any rousing speeches. When things go wrong usually they go wrong in a way that is horrific, or hilarious. The way people perceive veterans is almost always wrong.
For so long, I would avoid questions about Iraq. I realised after writing about it here that I can help my fellow veterans and the civilians back home understand, but one thing I have never gotten over is people thanking me. Thank you for your service. I get why people say it, but to me, having come from a family that has all served at least one stint (no career officers or enlisted-men) joining the Army, even in a time of war didn’t seem that special to me. Why would people thank me for something I enjoyed? I truly loved my job. Even the PT, the Mandatory Fun-days, the Hurry Up and Wait, the FUBAR SNAFU and BOHICA moments. I had fun, despite all my griping. I don’t understand, for the life of me why an 18 year old with nothing better to do doesn’t think that one stint in say Germany, or Hawaii, or Florida, wouldn’t be the best thing ever.
Be that as it may, I know that people will not join up. The class of people that serve seems to be more and more so an isolated class. Whenever people finally meet one of these Soldiers Sailors Airmen or Marines they feel obliged to shake their hand and thank them for a job, they don’t understand. It seems all so incongruous, and it always comes out of the blue that I’m just not prepared for it. Ever. I always give the usual smart arse remark that we used to say almost every day in the Army; “Don’t thank me, thank my recruiter”. But I’ve come to realise that this answer is if anything worse than just looking stunned (like I usually do).
So here is what I would like to see happen. If you want to thank me for my service, then please donate to the USO. They did tons of good for me, and kept my spirits up as best as anyone could. The USO in DFW was a welcome shelter when I was on my mid tour leave in 2004, and the ladies behind the bar (non-alcoholic) did their level best to make me feel at home. This organisation will go find celebrities to bring to the war zone for morale boosters. Once they brought the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. Had my LT let me go see them I assure you my morale would have been very much boosted.
If you feel shock or dismay at the things I and my fellow soldiers went through at the WTB then please donate to the Wounded Warrior Project. The wounds war leaves on a soldier are extreme. We’re seeing men survive things that even 20 years ago would have been unheard of. The support efforts for such men and women is not cheap, and often the WTBs and the VA system are just too overworked to provide the for the needs of these service members. WWP goes in and helps where they can. I can honestly say they have saved lives.
If you feel that you want to remind all the soldiers still out there fighting right now, that they are not in fact forgotten, then please donate to Soldiers Angels. When I landed in Germany I had only my undershirt pants and boots. Nothing else. I didn’t even have my wallet. The people of Soldiers Angels Germany gave me clothes to see me through, and a pillow (still have the case) that was WAY better than the hospital pillows. They would regularly send me care packages that made me feel like I wasn’t being forgotten when I was in Iraq.
This Veterans Day, I ask that you don’t thank me. I’ve been thanked for things that I’m not entirely sure I should be thanked for. I’m a citizen now. What I’ve done in my past is just that, past. I ask that you take $5 and donate it to a charity. Aside from that the only way I can say that you can really thank us is to join us.
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