Friday, November 11, 2011

Many Serve Who Were Never Called

I know that I have been really scarce of late. But, my creative juices have not had much inspiration for a while. Yesterday was the first day I felt reasonably well since my chemo last week, but I had a rough night last night. Sleep would not replace all my wayward thoughts. Not sure if Veterans Day or my own mortality was the catalyst, but I’ve spent the wee hours of this morning trying to give you the cliff-notes, lengthy though they be.

Growing up in the first wave of the baby boomers I, like most of my generation, grew up watching GI movies. Everything from Gary Cooper in Sergeant York to the heroics of John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima.

My father's boot camp graduation 1941

I also spent a lot of time listing to the war stories told around our kitchen table. First, it was WWll tales told by my father and older uncles and all their friends. Then, it was the Koran War stories brought home by older cousins, neighbors and family friends. Followed by the Vietnam discussions of my brother, brother-in-laws and so very many friends. In between were the peacetime tales of every male who was ever drafted or enlisted.

the Old Salt when he was sworn in as a CW03 in 1982

Finally, I married a thirty-year Navy man with countless stories. An “Old Salt” who served in conflicts from Vietnam to the Gulf war and whose son has been in Iraq and Afghanistan for five years now. I have a great-niece who just returned from Iraq, and several young relatives currently serving around the world. Among our friends are numerous veterans or their surviving families. One dear lady friend never recovered from the loss of her fiancĂ©e. He is still listed MIA from Vietnam. And, three dear souls in their nineties, one of whom served as a young sailor on the battleship South Dakota, another gentleman who spent so much time in the Philippines without R&R that his clothes actually rotted off his back. And finally, a delightful lady whose first husband was killed on Iwo Jima leaving her with a baby to raise. After the war she married another survivor of Iwo Jima. A career Marine with two small children. They spent decades moving their family, every few years, from one post to another; often surviving on a pauper’s budget in the days before decent wages came to those who served. She is now planning for the day when she will be buried between her two Marines.

The Old Salt checking out our friend Norman's record
of service during WW2 in the Philippines.

I may not have done any military service but I have certainly been affected by how serving impacted my family and friends. I doubt my life is all that different from yours; if, like me, you lived through war and peacetime events as seen through the eyes of those who were there and lived to gather around your kitchen table.

Most of the military men I know say that today we should be honoring those who paid the ultimate price for their service and not them. But, I disagree. Despite all the veteran talk that has taken place around our kitchen table, sometimes the silence of what wasn’t said was actually the loudest sound in the room. It can’t be denied that any person male or female who spent even one enlistment in the service of Uncle Sam often comes home a changed person and not always for the better. So, yes, each and every one deserves to be honored today. But not just our Veterans. We should be honoring every spouse and family member whose life has changed, sometimes irrevocably, because of their loved one’s service to this country as well.

Photo of my cousin George during the Korean War
taken at his funeral in 2010

The world needs to know about the nightmares that never end. They need to understand how the unseen injuries like hearing loss, caused by explosions and gunfire, changed the life and livelihood of not only the veteran but also his wife and children. The nights family members spend pacing because their loved one’s injuries whether physical or emotional has them suffering in pain or torment.

My cousin James currently serving in Afghanistan

My Great-niece Jenny who just left Afghanistan

All our Veterans deserve every parade, ceremony and honor that can be bestowed on them today. But, shouldn’t we be also finding ways to honor all those family members that served along with them and continue to lovingly care and share the consequences long after their service is over.