While I can certainly appreciate the efforts of all those facebook friends who took the time to post photographs of family members who so bravely served, as hard as I try, I cannot bring myself to feel that same cherished sentiment. It’s not that I’m not proud of my father’s service, because I am.
Despite being stricken with polio, like so many others, he faithfully served in the Korean War. And like so many others, he wasn’t the same person when he came back. Alcoholism, heart disease, marital problems, and the occasional psychological hospitalization plagued him for the rest of his life.
I don’t think he every fully recovered and I can say that because I’m the only one with whom he would regularly discuss his military service.
Under the guise of photo reconnaissance, he was a member of the precursor to the Navy SEALS. They were the elite group who went behind the lines to blow up railroads, kill prison camp commanders, and interdict enemy shipping.
Sadly, I’m not so sure even he was proud of his time in Korea. He certainly didn’t want to talk about it. When I suggested co-authoring a book on his experience, the answer was an emphatic “No!” I can only imagine how tough it had to be on a sensitive only child from the north side of Chicago. Those late night conversations clearly conveyed the toll his service took.
So while I wouldn’t call it painful, whenever Veteran’s Day does roll around, I get this uneasy feeling in the pit of my chest. Again, I’m proud that my father fought for his country, but I can’t help but wonder what his life would’ve been like had the appropriate help been available when he came back from Korea.
Please don’t get me wrong! It is absolutely appropriate and correct that we post pictures and remember those courageous souls who were so willing to make the supreme sacrifice on the day set aside for that very purpose. But I hope I’m not the only one who feels that isn’t nearly enough.
Honoring fallen soldiers once a year is easy. What’s much more difficult, is honoring the 20 million veterans currently living is this country because so many of them could really use our help.
And I’m not talking about referring to them as “heroes” at every turn because that and four bucks will get you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks. I’m talking about implementing the kind of national safety net that will effectively get them back here in one piece – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Remember Omar Gonzalez? He’s the gentleman who jumped the White House fence and almost made in to the door. He’s a three tour Iraqi War veteran who suffers from PTSD and paranoia as a result. It ended his eight-year marriage. His Fort Hood psychiatrist gave him prescriptions for his condition, but as someone who worked with the mentally ill can attest, unless the appropriate support network is in place, they tend to stop taking their medications.
His former stepson told CNN that Omar was a “great, great guy,” who took great pride in serving his country. But instead of talking about improving the abysmal medical and mental health care options available to returning veterans, we discussed the Secret Service lapse and the need to extend street level barricades.
I’m sure our veterans would trade this one day for 364 others in which we acknowledged their service in a more meaningful way. Better social services, top flight medical and mental health care, job programs and so much more. That would be a far better way of saying “thank you!” Isn’t it far better to honor someone while they’re still alive?
The bottom line? Every day should be Veteran’s Day.