This evening we watched a beautiful film called Taking Chance. It is the true story of a Marine LTC who escorts the body of PFC Chance Phelps for burial. At one point, Kevin Bacon as the LTC speaks with a young Marine who was with Chance Phelps when he died. The boy (they are all kids, folks!) speaks of how he should have been the one to die. It is a conversation I have had with many of our warriors.
One soldier once told me “You know, sir, some of us don’t like it when someone thanks us for our service.” When I asked him why, he said that it separates people in the US from soldiers. “It’s like they’re thanking me for something they are not a part of. Makes us feel apart.” I have had too many soldiers tell me of someone coming up to them and asking “Did you kill anyone?” It is an inquiry that is far too common.
Last night at the Memorial Day Concert Colin Powell pointed out the need to provide jobs to our vets. Many of us are not in a position to do that so what can we do? I would like to suggest that, more than anything else, we can take the time to listen.
Many of us don’t want to hear. Thus, the dismissive “thank you for your service.” Perhaps our own sentiments about war get in the way and we instead pass judgment. Often too we simply don’t want to hear stories of blown up battle buddies or dead children. We don’t want to hear about the guilt some warriors feel for surviving. (I listened to one brave warrior speak of feeling guilt because he came back with all his body parts!) We don’t want to listen. It’s too upsetting.
The majority of these warriors are not looking for special treatment. They simply want to know that there is still a place for them here. We can make them feel welcome not with parades but with an invitation to talk. If so honored, we each need to keep quiet and listen. Perhaps we might learn something not only about courage but about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of unimagined violence.
So if you know a veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns, if they express a need to talk, give them the gift of your time and attention. In that way you will thank them for their service.
Reflection: 1. How have combat veterans entered your life? How have you responded?
Viewing: Taking Chance is an HBO film available on video.