At Mass this morning, the priest (an Army chaplain himself) asked all veterans to stand and be blessed. I looked around and saw young and old, male and female. I wondered what their stories are. Who served in combat? What stories do they have to tell?
I have spoken with veterans of every war from World War II to the present conflicts. Here are a few things they have taught me:
- A World War II veteran gave me the best definition I know of for PTSD. When I asked him about the daily nightmares he suffered, he said simply “I assumed it was the price men pay for going to war.”
- Another World War II taught me how important it is to talk about trauma. He had carried within him for 60 years the belief he was a coward for being afraid. When I managed to help him see the inaccuracy of that belief, he said simply “It never occurred to me that other men might be afraid.”
- A female Command Sergeant Major taught me the realities of sexual discrimination in the military as she shared without self-pity a long story of harassment she faced as she rose to the highest enlisted rank.
- I think of a Viet Nam veteran who told me horrific stories of being in combat but only started weeping when he spoke of being spit on by protestors upon his return home.
- I think of a man of faith who spoke sadly of finding the body of an Iraqi boy he’d befriended, murdered because the friendship made others suspect the boy was supplying information. I think of a Catholic man who believed his sins were beyond forgiving and that, because he had killed, he could not attend Mass. These and many other brother and sister veterans have taught me that, while some may need professional care, many simply want to tell their story without judgment. They have also helped me see that war is truly wrong, that war destroys in body, mind, and spirit. So if you want to thank a veteran for his or her service, take the time to listen if they choose to honor you with their stories. Those stories will enrich you. As you watch the attached, please pray with me: “For God’s sake, bring them all home!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV7NYRimZec