As I have written before, I wasn’t a very good soldier. I had an attitude, expressed by not polishing my shoes, leaving my shirttail hanging out, wearing bright green socks on St. Paddy’s Day and a myriad of other protests. One day a gentle-spirited retired chaplain confronted me saying “Why so much protest over something as simple as being a soldier?” Why indeed, Charley? Why indeed?
It took a concert by my daughter’s middle-school orchestra to help me embrace my status as a veteran. Anyone who watches the annual Memorial Day and Fourth of July concerts knows that, towards the end, the orchestra plays of medley of Armed Forces themes. The first time I experienced that was with my daughter’s orchestra. Veterans were invited to stand when their theme song played so, when I heard the familiar “Over hill, over dale..” theme, for the first time I claimed my veteran status with pride and stood up.
My journey as a veteran has been humbling. The Army gave me some of my closest friends. My veteran status also connected me to some of my finest teachers. Some veterans taught me lessons of faith in the face of horror. Others challenged me with their honest expressions of anger and bewilderment with God. Female veterans helped me see the devastation of sexual harassment. All the combat veterans have solidified in me the belief that war is never a solution and is such an assault on the human spirit that few if any can go through war and not be changed forever.
On this day November 11 many citizens will greet veterans with a “Thank you for your service.” Some veteran enjoy this. Others resent it. As I’ve said before, many vets want to be listened to. Others simply want to be left alone. Still others, too many, become isolated, having no one who will listen, and end their lives. Just this morning I read of yet another veteran who took his life while waiting for help through the VA.
I was a soldier once. A feelings doctor in the Army, as my grandson proudly tells others. Thus, today as on every Veterans’ Day, I will wear my dog tags as a sign of solidarity with my brother and sister veterans. And I will wear my dog tags with pride.