Today is the day we as a country have set aside to honor our military veterans. If you follow along regularly, you may have had an opportunity to read the piece my brother, a combat veteran of the Iraq war, wrote about some of his experiences for Memorial Day 2014. The piece was a powerful tribute to one of his fallen brothers, and it spoke volumes to the true spirit of the American soldier. I asked him if he had anything he’d like to post for Veterans Day, and he asked me to take an excerpt from his blog, The Arclight.
Like a lot of other combat veterans, he has had some trouble re-integrating into civilian life. In an attempt to separate and make sense of as much as he could, he started to write about his experiences. These stories aren’t happy and most of them are really hard to read, but it’s important they be told from the perspective of someone who was there.
It’s easy to sit back and fly a flag a couple of times a year, post nice things of Facebook and have a cookout or a fireworks show, but living with the images these men and women have burned on their souls is something regular folks can’t even begin to comprehend. They experience these memories every day — every single day is Veterans Day for them, and it’s not a celebration. The following is part of one of my brother’s reflections on Baghdad in 2005-’06.
The images are still there in my mind. The person who viewed them isn’t.
In combat, differentiating one day from another becomes a daunting task. They run together, separated by visceral things, as if it was 130 degrees outside that day, or if you remember the particular stench of an area or an image that you can’t ever forget. It was late summer in 2006. This day separated itself from the blur of sweat, dust, fuel and the whine of the Abrams engine early. There were streams of dark blood snaking through the dust and dirt on the streets.
He goes on to tell the story of a horrific day in the “Doura Market.” Reading these things and knowing my little brother lived through it shreds me in ways I can’t explain. I am forever grateful that he lived, but I know parts of him that can’t be seen never made it back to the States.
Innocence remains in men until it is killed. Not the childhood innocence, but the hope that some things just don’t exist. The ignorance of a naiveté we afford ourselves as Americans. I felt like a child who believed so earnestly in Santa Claus, only to catch his parents placing toys late on a Christmas Eve night. I knew evil was there. But I lived behind walls, and I could choose to acknowledge it or I could choose “not be so negative.” I stared it in the eyes this day, and felt its breath on my neck. When that happens to a man, some of what is good in him wilts and dies. It can defeat us. It can turn our heads from light forever. To overcome it is like beating a disease. My battle began that day.
These are the people being marginalized by our government today. These are the folks who have to wait months and years for mental health care and beg and plead for appointments to be seen at Veterans hospitals. These are the people who hand us a big, fat plate of freedom, every single day, and these are the people we honor.
Alan Mentzer (Maddog Trucker), our brother from the road who often comments and posts some very thought-provoking things, wrote up a couple of paragraphs for me about his feelings on Veterans day, and I think it’s the perfect summary for today’s post:
Franklin D. Roosevelt said “I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line — the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”
I have witnessed firsthand the effects of war that burden the heavy hearts of its survivors. I have witnessed good men get trapped in tortured thoughts that forbid them the right to live peacefully amongst so many of us that take our freedoms for granted. I have witnessed a mother and father recognize their fallen son’s name displayed proudly by the Boy Scouts on a flag line as we all stood to block the Westboro Baptist protesters. If ever there was a changing chapter in young man’s life then this was it.
Sometimes it happens without notice and before you realize it you’re standing alone amidst strangers fighting back unexpected tears. I may not have the seen the blood and the mud, but I have seen the scars of pride and pain that paint the faces of our soldiers. I have explored the depths of their sacred thoughts by lending them a listening.
War is not foreign to people like you or me. Everyday is Veterans Day because America cares about its defenders of freedom. We may not always have the honors to say thank you directly, but let it be known our Veterans are not forgotten. Sometimes it’s a quiet whispered word as we approach one of many war-related memorials found throughout the small towns of America. Sometimes it’s through the rumble of motorcycles marching down the freeway and sometimes it’s through proud voices as we stand to sing the Star Spangled Banner.
Sometimes it’s a simple handshake because we would rather shake hands with a soldier than anyone else.
God bless the troops, and God bless America.