Veteran’s Day. We drop a line on Facebook for all our ”friends” to see. We pay tribute to them as our heroes. We even write a couple of paragraphs on our web pages, so everyone can see how caring and appreciative we are. We wave the flag and “support our troops” and congratulate ourselves for our sensitivity and patriotism. Then we go about the rest of our day, and the next day, and the next, and they are removed from our thoughts, those who fought in Europe and Asia in World War Two, in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, and even those who are still fighting and dying in Afghanistan.
For us civilians, for those of us who never served, Veteran’s Day is just a day, and it makes little difference if we remember it or not.
We watch the news through whatever political lens we view the world, and we listen to the talking heads briefly discuss surges and deadlines and drones and IEDs and which party or politician stands to gain or lose, before they move on to the more “important” issues, like the economy and taxes and contraception and abortion. To those of us who’ve never experienced it, war is a distant and incomprehensible concept. I don’t know but I’m guessing that the main thing that we who haven’t fought in a war can’t understand is what it feels like to have people trying to kill you, and what it feels like to be asked to kill other people. Veterans are the ones for who war is a reality, who survived, the ones who are expected to come home and return to normal, as if nothing ever happened. It’s easy to identify heroism on the battlefield, the Medal of Honor winners, the courageous acts in extraordinary circumstances. It’s a little more difficult to recognize heroism in the every day.
This Veteran’s Day I’m thinking of a guy I used to work with who fought in Vietnam. We worked together for eleven years, and we had a ball. He is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, with a wonderful ability to laugh at himself. He is kind and caring and gentle and unassuming. He is a good father and husband. To me, he’s always been a good friend, one of the best. We worked close enough for a long enough time that he shared some of the nightmare he experienced over there, and some of the problems he had adjusting to coming home. I can’t even begin to imagine.
I’ll never know what it felt like to be over there, and I’ll never know how difficult the burden of those experiences has been to carry all these years. I just know that he is a kind and decent man and a good friend, and that he’ll always be a hero to me.