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.
Dear Richard. Thank you so deeply for all the wisdom you have experienced. And even more so for the gentle and gracious way you share with all who have crossed your path. Thank you for your continued service to us. As clients as collegue’s and as friends . Given the events of this week, your wisdom and experience and presence will indeed be needed. Strength and love to you as you journey with the broken wings in our broken and fragile world.
Thank you, Rich, for both your service and your clarity.
Since so much of my life involves working with vets, I want to share this story. When Reservists are activated they receive health care at the Department of Defense. When they are not activated they are seen at the VA. Occasionally there are errors and the VA gets an Activated Reservist in their “net”. I had such a case and I was wondering why I was working with someone who was not “my” patient. I glanced at his orders and saw the word “Infantry” and I realized then that he WAS mine. He was part of the my father’s infantry family. My father was in the 82nd Infantry when it was still a segregated Army. Somehow my father’s service made me understand this young infantryman.