Dear America: Words from our Veterans

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Learn to do well: seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge for the fatherless, defend the widow. Isaiah 1:17

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.  It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.” ~G.K. Chesterton

As far as I can see it, anyone who has a problem with what guys do over there is incapable of empathy…  The problem with ROE’s covering minutiae is that terrorists really don’t give a sh*t about the Geneva Convention. So picking apart a soldier’s every move against a dark, twisted, rule free enemy is more than ridiculous, it’s despicable.” ~Taya Kyle, widow of US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. From Chris’ book, American Sniper

 

There are a lot of people in this world who never take the time to think about others in their own neighborhoods, let alone strangers on the other side of the world. A lot of folks talk about love and caring, hope and change, but how many people appreciate those who have lived or died doing those things?  If anyone lives the message of hope and love, it’s those who have often given up peace in their own souls so they can bring it to others.

I will never presume to know why so many people have volunteered for military service. There are various reasons given, but many have given up so much when they have sworn the oath. Some from the not so distant past had no choice- for them it wasn’t voluntary, but they still did their sworn duty willingly and suffered much because of so much, but whether voluntary or drafted, so many say they would do it all again. There are still those who are getting sent to places around the world, places seemingly forsaken by God and all that is good. Yet they go because they know there are still things and people worth fighting for. They all have their reasons. For us, the civilians who are beneficiaries of all they have given, politics and reasons they do what they’ve done don’t matter. What they did, and what those who still do- is what matters.

For Veterans Day I asked some special friends of mine what they would tell Americans if they had a chance, about what they experienced when they served our country, and still now as Veterans.  Those of us who have never worn a uniform of the US Military will never truly understand what all is given. While some words may be blunt, they’re honest- and if we’re honest too, then what they say won’t insult us. These are the facts of people’s lives; this is their article, in their own words.

Dear America,

I was drafted by the Corps, but I enlisted in the USAF because of family pressures… If you can understand that especially, that both Granddads were in WWI my Dad in WWII, and saw combat, so the pressure was strong. I was a 19 year old surfer kid when I went in and came out with the respect of a Man.

I went to Vietnam, scared to death, knew I wouldn’t be coming back. I was positive of it …  On base “Da Nang” wasn’t bad. I felt safe, kind of, though rockets came in every night. Off base not so much. TET was a B*tch!! Rather not get into that for fear, even today, of remembering what I don’t want to.  Every time we’d get in situations where we were in fire fights or rocketed, many of us just got so pissed off and gave back what they were giving us.

I was assigned with a Forward Air Control Squadron, so my terror wasn’t justified like my brothers on the ground. One day you’re calm, the next, your head was on a swivel.  The saddest part is where we were not allowed to do our Jobs. We easily could have won the freaking War if it weren’t for the Politicians. But we did what we were asked. It’s over now.  I was no longer that surfer kid…

I flew Flying Tigers home on the 30th of January 1969 to Norton AFB outside San Bernardino Calif., got off the 707 and kissed the ground.  Some Major rounded up all of us that were separating from active duty, and in 6 hours I was a civilian again.

I was so happy to be going home, but my country had really changed.  Then the crap started, we were told to put on civilian clothes and not to wear our uniform …hell most of us had the fatigues on our backs and that’s it. I took a cab to buy clothes, but the banks wouldn’t cash my Mustering out check so I just wore my fatigues to LAX to fly home to Miami. That was a mistake. You hear stories about soldiers getting spat on, called names, even assaulted, well its true believe me… and more than that too.

Finally after getting bumped from 4 flights and 16 hours later, I got on a flight. I sat down, thanking God I was finally out of California…. Then the woman in my row got up and told the flight attendant that she wouldn’t sit next to a bastard like me… I have never in my life felt so bad!  So I moved after the flight attendant said it would be wise for me to find another seat. Forty five years later it still brings tears to my eyes.

The rest is History… If you fought in Vietnam, then you were a druggie, a killer, just an all-around Bad Person. For decades I rarely told anyone that I served in Vietnam. Just a few years ago did people finally start to thank us for our service… many don’t mean it. Please don’t misunderstand, there are some who truly do, but for the most part we are still pretty much dirt to them. They still believe we were bad guys over there. We weren’t. But were sick of dwelling on it, so most have moved on but we won’t forget…..Ever.

Most people still don’t care about our military; all they do is give lip service …because it’s fashionable to do so.  That’s why politicians pretend to care too, helps them get Votes. It’s sad what our country has come to.”

~ Rick, US Air Force, Viet Nam late 67-early 69



 

A dear friend and Patriot asked me to answer a question about my experience in the Navy and things I’ve dealt with since getting out. I’m going to answer this question in a way most wouldn’t think of. With the situation in the VA and problems with getting proper physical and mental assistance that’s where the majority of the attention goes. I’m going to go to a problem even further back.

The military in general needs better recruitment practices put in place. (Timothy Barnes if you’re reading this it’s for you). We’ve all heard the horror stories of recruiters lying to recruits to basically fill a billet and I’m proof of that.

Some of the fault lies with me for not doing my due diligence but the rest lies directly on the shoulders of recruiters willing to lie their butts off.

I joined the Navy with a few specific goals. 1. Serve my country 2.Travel 3.Training. I wanted to receive training in the field of diesel technology and with an 80+ on my ASVAB this was more than feasible. The USMC recruiter actually told me that he had no openings for such a field and offered other possibilities. The Navy recruiter offered me a C School as a MM (working in main machinery room on boilers and aux steam equip, never saw a diesel engine) Why is this this a problem you may ask? Who the heck uses boilers in the real world anymore? I left the Navy with 6 years of hands on and months of worthless classroom hours. After getting out of service now I’m forced to retrain or go to school instead of hitting the ground running.”

– Paul, US Navy Veteran

 

“I don’t know if Americans or anyone would or could understand about what the combat vet has dealt with (and each one deals with their experiences differently) and how he has to incorporate that experience with a “normal” life.

I never had a problem with socializing or feeling that I couldn’t fit in before I served in Vietnam but I most certainly did after coming home. Experiencing the extreme emotional highs and lows of combat that you can only deaden by putting your brain into neutral changes who you are as a social person. You can pretend and put on a superficial persona but it is difficult to reveal your true self. Wanting to withdraw, not being able to feel regular highs and lows, coasting emotionally, sometimes struggling with trying to keep your emotional world from being punctured and allowing the extremes from manifesting themselves in a negative and harmful manner.

Who understands that unless it is your fellow combat vet? Who wants to understand that and the ugliness that we try to keep buried safely away. We know all too well how low we can sink. The trouble is that noncombat people believe that they are on a higher moral ground with in innate degree of human compassion and therefore cannot comprehend the experiences and the handling of those experiences of the combat vet. It’s a road that will never meet.

~David M., USMC Vietnam Veteran

 

“Being a Veteran means a lot to me just as serving in the Military meant the world to me.  It still defines who I am.  I spent 23 years in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, all of it in the Infantry, the 109th Infantry Regiment.  I was deployed once overseas but I was also activated for state emergency service a total of 9 times.  All of those activations/deployments are the highlight of my military career.  I remember the days on patrol in and around Tuzla and Camp Connors in Bosnia as fondly as the days I have spent pulling people out of flood waters in Northeast PA.  I also remember having to stay behind due to medical reasons as my unit left for Iraq.  The pain is still there as I remember my Brothers-in-Arms who came back early from Ramadi in caskets under the American flag.  

  But, those friends who paid the ultimate sacrifice aren’t the only reason why I still try to carry myself as a soldier.  It’s also the memory of my cousin Thomas Wharton, who died in Laos during the Vietnam War.  It’s the memory of my uncle Vic, who served before me in the PA Army National Guard.  It’s the memories of my father and the pride in his eyes and his voice as he congratulated me after I graduated Basic Training.  But it is a lot more than memories. It’s also the thought that my children will hopefully serve in the U.S. Military one day.  It’s the men and women who make up the U.S. Armed Forces today.  That is why I still consider myself a soldier.  Why I still have some type of military bearing about me.  That is why I am proud of being a Veteran of the U.S. Military.”

– John, SGT (Ret.) US Army National Guard

 

I don’t regret my time spent in the Air Force, but I would have done things differently. Being in the military has never been a 9 to 5 affair.  There were many months working swing and grave shift and trips lasting days, weeks and even months.  Not much different than many jobs you might think, but there were differences; like suddenly being sent home to pack your bags with no explanation provided. You can’t tell your wife and children where you are going or for how long. No discussions of your day and what was accomplished. This lends itself to a silence that extends from your wife and children, to your parents, relatives and friends. You lose the art of intimate conversation, time spent with family, and you lose the closeness that is needed for healthy relationships.

The chasm grows when you don’t get to spend weekends with your family. School plays, teachers meetings, ball games and other events are missed in effect making it a one parent home. Birthdays, holidays and anniversaries are missed. This takes away memories that are saved for later on in life.

Companionship that so many couples take for granted is lost. Is there any wonder there is a higher occurrence of infidelity, “open” marriages and divorce in the military? It doesn’t make it right, it just makes it happen. Now, many years later; I am not married. I have not loosened up and learned how to make a marriage work. I love my children dearly and they love me. But, we aren’t as close as many families that I know.

So what have I sacrificed that means the most to me?  I’ve lost the sense of family and the memories that go with it. Even if you are with someone later on in life, you have sacrificed a large part of your life without realizing it.  No matter how good your life becomes, you can never get that back.  

I chose to serve the greatest nation on Earth and I would gladly do it again.  This country will not remain strong unless there are those who are willing to sacrifice for it. Would I do things differently? Yes! I would have realized how precious my time with family was, and spent every spare moment investing in memories; not just my memories, but theirs as well.”

Gregg, USAF at Charleston AFB from 1977-1989, working on the flight line and then as a C-141 Flight Engineer.
I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, but there’s no way that an average American could ever understand what we’ve been through.  It’s one of those ‘you’d have to have been there’ situations.

As an older vet, I think Americans need to understand just how dismal the care is at the Veteran’s Administration.  From what I’ve experienced personally is that once you reach a certain age, the only thing offered is more and more pain killers rather than the treatment that is needed.  They just want us out of their hair.  I think that if you were to ask any vet over the age of 65, you’ll get the same answer.”

~David, USMC Vietnam Veteran

I want to thank each of my Veteran friends for being so open and honest and willing to share. For us civilians it’s important to recognize sacrifices given for all of us by all of you. It’s hard sometimes for most people to understand that there are so many ways in which our military men and women give. Sharing your experiences helps.

For the rest of us, it’s my hope to remember, and recognize our Veterans more than one or two days a year. Whether returning troops and veterans are able to integrate back into civilian life or whether they have to overcome new battles such as life changing injuries and wounds, hidden wounds of PTSD/TBI and issues with the VA, none of them should be made to feel as if their service doesn’t matter. Imagine giving half the time it takes to watch your favorite movie or sports star to talk or thank a Veteran. They are our true stars. If it weren’t for them, our world would be a more brutal and evil place.

For all of our Veterans, and those still serving now, Thank You not only for your sacrifices for our freedoms, but for your defending the liberation and freedoms of others.

 

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