Veterans know service can be all-consuming
Veterans Day once signified something; a day of remembrance set aside to pay tribute to those who have worn the uniform in service of their country as a member of the U.S. armed forces. Too many of us are stirred only by a day off for ingesting all things artery-clogging and nursing what amounts to the next day’s hangover or taking full advantage of all things selling for slashed prices at the nearest mall. We veterans long ago wrote that blank check for the price of that freedom, paid for in blood and untold and long forgotten sacrifices.
The time is long past due to shelve self-absorption and the familiar litany of insults that have become household terms of indignity by those who dare to demean our military service — and public assaults by the largely uniformed, as if we could “just get over it.” We must instead seize the opportunity as Americans to come together to pay homage and demonstrate reverence and regard for the enormous cost of serving this great nation.
For many, military service has been rendered meaningless to the populace at large by the vast division between our citizenry and the warrior class voluntarily sworn with protecting and defending them. Most of our country has been largely unaffected by the longest era of war in U.S. history. Those of us who have ever worn the uniform have had our lives upended countless times by repeated deployments, witnessing our brothers and sisters in arms killed and maimed for life, with festering wounds that do not bleed. We return to a nation that remains clueless and detached from our indescribable plight and knows only the war they view on television.
That we all gave some and that some gave all remains an elusive concept that will never occupy the consciousness of the 99.5% of the population and the vast numbers of those who find it gratifying to kneel in shame before the American flag and the national anthem. Thank a veteran every time you sleep well at night.
The toll of war and military service is staggering. It is the taking of lives and the killing of souls that follows that have become the other signature wounds of war. It comes in the form of nightmares and flashbacks and intrusive memories, as we are forced to bear the burdens of reliving the sights and sounds and smells of the bodies of children piling up in the streets of remote villages, soaked in excrement and carpeted with burned tires, all because they fired upon American troops and you had no choice but to “take them out” to spare the lives of your own.
It is an “us versus them” kind of thing. Dreadful, horrible things happen in the fog of war. They erupt in the most unexpected of moments and it is those of us who have worn the uniform who are forced to live with the recklessness of war, cast upon us without any say in the matter. Scores of the more than 2.6 million of us who have served in the combat theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan have now returned home, profoundly affected by the mind deafening quagmire of an adrenaline rich and rapturous frenzy, pride for having served and made it home alive and with a couple of medals to prove it, and a steaming brew of moral confusion, survivor guilt, and minds that have failed to be bulletproof to the experiences of war that live in the shadows and the darkest recesses of our minds and within our splintered souls.
It is not the cause of freedom that draws us to war nearly so much as safeguarding the lives of our friends and ties that unite us in times of unparalleled suffering and catastrophe, forging relationships that will endure for lifetimes, often exceeding the closeness of family. Departing this and attempting to replace it on the home front becomes the new struggle, as those willing to lay down their lives are among life’s most treasured keepsakes.
Leaving this behind is easily an immense loss. If nothing else, it is ours to seize the knowledge garnered from survivorship in the face of human tragedy and the interconnectedness of those flung together under the most cataclysmic of life circumstances. It is in one another that the will and determination to survive the unfathomable is fueled and from which resilience thrives.
And so it is in the aftermath of these events that we must hang together so that our souls do not perish in the pangs of an emotionally amputated life. What we must prevent at all costs is the disintegration of these imperatives on the home front. We must seek every opportunity to perpetuate the lessons that remain pure sustenance, to celebrate the invincibility of the human spirit.
Admittedly, there are more than a few of us who would not seek to repeat these death-defying experiences, to do this wartime thing all over again, to render ourselves vulnerable to an early demise just for the opportunity to re-experience the camaraderie, the closeness of kinship that once sustained us and that is pivotal to our emotional survival in war’s aftermath. We are among that exclusive class of warriors who would rather die for something than from something.
Kathy Platoni is a retired Army colonel who served in operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. She is a clinical psychologist based in Centerville, Ohio, who co-authored and edited “Trauma in Its Wake: Expanding the Circle of Healing” and “Healing War Trauma: A Handbook of Creative Approaches.”