Decades after the war, Hal and I and our youngest son, visiting the nation’s capital, drove out to Arlington and joined a small crowd on the concrete risers where visitors stand to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The ceremony is carried out in silence, save for the stern commands of the sergeant of the guards, the clicking of heels, and the slap of hands on rifles.
As we watched, Hal suddenly began to sob and, unable to continue standing, went down, collapsing on the step just behind us. I was stunned. Only later did I learn that what he had experienced was common in veterans who, years before, had come home from the war and, subscribing to the ethos of the strong, silent male, rubbed dirt on the wounds and moved on.
“Yet those costs, as hard as the nation tried to ignore them, did not go away,” Tim Madigan, novelist and journalist, wrote in a Washington Post article. “The soldiers I interviewed … and tens of thousands of others like them, were painful and often poignant proof of that. Though reverential books … glossed over it, the hidden anguish of the Greatest Generation has always been there.”
And, though we’re much more aware of the psychological effects of battle, so has the anguish of those sent off to other wars … Viet Nam … Iraq… Afghanistan … The anguish is there.
November 11th: On this day we recognize Veterans Day. If we pause to think about its history, its significance, and the people whose courage and perseverance made the holiday possible, we not only recognize the holiday. We observe it.
Millions of Americans have served in combat and, while pacifism is in my DNA, I nevertheless believe veterans deserve our respect and appreciation. What’s happening politically in this country not only disgraces us, but disrespects the veterans we claim to honor.
Trump’s “big lie” and the insurrection it spawned, the obscene flow of wealth to the wealthy, the stagnation of wages, the rampant poverty, the willfully hostage Republicans, racist mobs, the grandstanding by Josh Hawley, the bullying by Lauren Boebert the obscenities of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the covid denial of Ron DeSantis, the unhinged and dangerous threats of Paul Gosar … and the lying, the constant lying … and much, much more.
In defense of this, we continue to ask service members to risk life and limb and mental health?
Our veterans deserve better than that. So do we all.