Growing up in West Mifflin, I had no real idea what Memorial Day was about. We typically had a cookout and there was a parade near our house. It was next to a cemetery dated back to pre-Revolutionary War times so I had a sense of history, but not necessarily any connection to veterans in my real life.
My grandfather was a WWII veteran and it was something of which we didn’t speak. My great-grandfather was a WWI veteran and it was also just not talked about. I had an uncle who served in Korea as a medic but he didn’t want to talk about it either. My own father was called up for Vietnam in the early 60’s, but his poor eyesight send him back to the Mill. I have a few cousins – distant cousins – who have enlisted, but it’s also not really been discussed. Another cousin has been embedded in Iraq a few times – he’s a lawyer who works with the UN.
So I grew up with a sense of respect and a little fear about what it meant to be a veteran. And the unwillingness to talk about it created a disconnect with other veterans. So it wasn’t real to me beyond the intellectual realization of the sacrifices and so forth.
When I was about 18 or 19, I saw Platoon and I was horrified. I read the Vietnam era novels by now Senator Jim Webb and was equally horrified. And I listened to our nation go to war in the Gulf … all I could think about was my 18-year-old brother – I lived with dread that he might enlist or be part of the ever-looming threat of a draft.
Twenty years later, I’m still horrified and just angry. I’m angry about how we treat returning veterans – the living ones. I’m angry that we have this “rah-rah rah” troops mentality and send care packages and yet turn a blind eye to a lack of proper military equipment. I’m angry that people buy yellow ribbons for their cars at the 7-11 and not a penny actually goes to the troops.
I’m angry about this. Closing a facility tailored to the needs of veterans. I’m angry about this. Over 800,000 returning veterans are applying for Social Security and nothing is being done to address that need. The struggle to get disability is hard enough. I’m angry about this, too. Homeless veterans. Mostly because we never bothered to develop the infrastructure to help them reintegrate into every day life. There aren’t enough resources and most of them don’t meet veterans’ needs.
To be honest with you, I don’t know how I feel about war. Is it a necessary evil? The best I can say is that I’m glad the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has paved the way for lesbians and gay men to make their own decisions & live authentically while they serve (still need to work on making it safe for transpersons.)
But I’m confident that we should honor the commitment we make to these men & women by ensuring they have the resources and tools they need. It is complicated because I also think we should make sure we have enough resources for all persons struggling.
I have radical notions like training emotional support dogs (or pets) for every returning veteran, support dogs when needed. I wonder if the money saved on caring for homeless pets would offset the training costs? Clearly, we need more housing – but that’s always the case.
So I’m left feeling angry because I know there are no easy solutions unless our government – and our taxpayers – invest in these programs.
I’m not angry that you are having a picnic today. I think that’s fine – socialization and recreation are fine. I’m not angry about the fact that we don’t always honor the dead. I’m pretty okay knowing that they are somewhere better.
But … there are millions of men and women who need us. And I suspect we aren’t going to be there when they do.