Today we honor those men and women who have served their country on behalf of us all. They answered the call. They gave the best years of their lives to protect our freedoms. They put themselves in harm’s way. They put themselves between danger and us. They stood in the gap. Whatever you personally feel about the wars that have been fought in our lifetime and whether they were necessary, it doesn’t change one bit the story for those who went. They were all doing what one should do for one’s country.
History will remember the conflicts but forget the names, but in the case of father, son, brother, sister, or friend, we will not. Many veterans quietly suffer — some of them right next to you or me — most of them do not want to talk about their experiences — experiences so far removed from their current reality that they would prefer to leave them far away. Yet through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) they continue to haunt.
I just finished reading a book written by someone my age who survived Vietnam. He served as an airplane mechanic, working near fighting zones but never actually experienced combat. Still, he writes about how he lived with the constant fear of attack and he didn’t even have a gun. He did view the constant parade of mangled bodies and the body bags of soldiers on the planes he maintained. When he finally came home, he did not understand why he was spit on by his peers. Even today, after all these years, he will tell you his life is still affected every single day by what he went through including depression, withdrawal, nightmares, and the guilt and shame of why he came home alive when so many did not.
Their lives will never be the same. Small town boy… hometown girl… innocence lost. They experienced the worst of humanity that we might enjoy some simple pleasure, hardly aware of the inequity of the transaction.
Many traveled far, woke up in strange lands, endured foreign languages, and navigated differing world views. One day of celebration and honor is not sufficient to offset years of service and the close proximity of death, and it is such an embarrassingly small token to give in return, but thank you.