Understanding the United States Military Veteran
More than any other group of people, military veterans have the propensity for a shared mindset about most things. After having made this statement, I must immediately include a disclaimer, but it is the last one for the rest of this little essay. People are still individuals and as such there will always be exceptions, but this is my personal opinion about what makes these extraordinary people tick.
From what authority do I speak you might ask. I am a woman who has been privileged to know many veterans in my lifetime and to see the inter workings of the military as it was and as it is today.
The first veteran I ever knew was my own father. He served in the U.S. Army in the time period between the “great wars” as a cook no less. He was barely too young for World War I and too old for World War II, but would have gladly served his country in either. He went from being a content young farmer helping to take care of his large family by dropping out of school after completing the eighth grade, to a great thinker after his stint in the army. He was one of the most intelligent men I ever knew – even with his limited formal education. He read extensively, and held much of what he read in his enormous memory. He could quote Bible passages and Shakespeare with equal accuracy, and he loved the great poets. Long before I could read, I held some of his memories embodied in the beautiful cadence of his powerful deep voice.
He taught me well the one lesson that has stayed with me always – “never allow yourself to be intimidated by anyone on earth.”
The next veteran I knew up close and personal was a wounded survivor of World War II, my dear uncle. He was my mother’s younger brother. He was a member of the United States Navy CBs, and was wounded in hand-to-hand combat by a bayonet that nearly severed his spine. Though he was spared paralysis, he never took a step after that without intense pain. I remember his limp and his smile till the day he died. He had been a little hellion as a youngster, but became a devout and peaceful Christian soldier after the experience of military service.
Fast forward to my own era – my own war – Vietnam. My brother enlisted in the Navy, and there he met my future husband. My brother saw a chunk of that war up close and personal from the behind the scenes venue of White House communications, where he served in a technical capacity for Nixon. Just passing the intense scrutiny for him to get there was a huge eye opener for all of us about how politics and the military work to protect the highest office in the land. My brother had a temperament much like my father in that his military experience added a depth to his thinking. He, too, maintained that one of a kind smile for the rest of his life.
My husband started out his military service in the Navy in a technical capacity also. Serving on ships, working on many of the submarines of that era, he landed in Vietnam during the intensity of that “overseas contingency operation.” To say that he was not affected by what he saw over there would be as big a stretch of the truth as the new name for war. To say that I was not affected by my own experiences during that time would be a lie.
We had friends who did not return. We had friends who were adversely affected for the rest of their lives. We bore the brunt of the peaceniks’ attacks on returning veterans. During the times when the guys flew in uniform, we saw the vicious attacks up close and personal. It was the biggest shame visited upon military veterans in this country since the Civil War.
By far the most valuable thing my husband took away from his military experience was the training he received to become what he would always be for the rest of his life – a teacher. As I’ve said before, he could reach those previously unreachable young people and set them on a path to success they would have otherwise never known. That was his gift and it was enhanced by his military training. That did not come from a university classroom.
There is an unspoken language that communicates among military veterans. Most of today’s society is unaware of it and unwilling to try to understand it. Many are in awe of military heroes and God bless them for their support and respect for what they do. But to feel the real compassion for the heart of a soldier, you must seek a greater understanding of their job – their real job of preserving the best that this country is and has. Their job does not allow them to dwell on their own experiences if they are to fulfill their obligations while being able to manage the rest of their lives in peace.
Most real veterans that I have known do not wish to share their experiences except in a superficial manner - isolated incidents that do not betray their common trust. They are trained to do what they do in defense of each other and the greater good of getting them home alive. Many of them have lofty ideals of preserving freedom by giving up their own for a period of time, but they are trained never to be intimidated. Just as my father taught me, intimidation has no place in a soldier’s life. This training, unlike my own, is facilitated by introducing them to extreme intimidation, and then allowing them the luxury to rise above it if they can.
Compare that to the liberal education one receives on a college campus, or sadly these days, in classrooms of younger and younger students. Brow beating does not come close to describing the tools of modern education. Even the military has succumbed to some of these practices, for today’s military bares little resemblance to that of just a few decades ago.
Most veterans who have endured great hardship or achieved heroic acts will tell you that when push came to shove, it was their training that allowed them to endure and achieve. The most admired and respected military leaders are those who were “in the trenches” at some point themselves and earned their own respect.
I have heard it said that most young folks who join the all volunteer military today do, not for what they can do for their country, but rather what their country will do for them in the form of educational benefits and such. It is a fool’s calling to believe this. These young folks are well aware before they ever affix their signatures to the final enlistment paper exactly what the risks are to their lives, whether or not they conveniently forget that part later. Only a handful will enlist for the wrong reasons.
The United States military community is unlike any other on earth. Veterans are unique people. They do not all come away with one political mind, but most do come away with a branded soul dedicated to pursuing decency in their personal endeavors if only given the chance. It is dangerous and foolish to single out military veterans with false suspicions of their negative intent for society. Many of my very best friends in the world are military veterans, and I take particular offense to anyone, especially the government they served, maligning their reputations.
A little understanding can go a long way, but false witness is an undeniable sin. Intimidation is something that will never fly in a country that remembers the cost of freedom. While much of the liberal public wrings its hands over the issue of torture of our known enemies, perhaps they should stop and think about the consequences of allowing their governmental departments of security to play the intimidation card on some of the finest people in America.
We are all veterans of our own experiences, but military veterans have already “put up” so they should not be called on to “shut up” and shut out that which makes them unique – their priorities for patriotic brotherhood.
Please see this poem I wrote some time ago for more understanding of the military veteran.