On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2011
For those left behind
I am a veteran of the Israeli army. I feel strange using the word veteran, because to me, a veteran is someone who fought in combat and either was killed, injured, or survived. But the dictionary gives the definition as “a former member of the armed services.” So, I suppose it’s OK to say that in this context. But this post is not about me. I use the word only because as someone who did serve her country in Israel, I know a little bit about what it is like to be a soldier. Even though I never fought in combat. And all political things aside, I can tell you that your life is not yours when you are a soldier. You are in service to your country. You wear a uniform. There are rules. You take orders. You learn to use a gun. It can be dangerous.
I mention this also because from an early age, I have seen up close what the effects of losing a family member, friend, or even an aquaintance to war, terror or the military, can be. Grief that comes from the loss of a beloved person in your life is a human, universal experience. But each loss is specific and personal. No two stories are the same, but they are all heartbreaking.
If you are a mother of a soldier, you might end up burying your child, your soldier. If you are a child, you might bury your parent soldier, a father or mother. If you are a husband, wife or fiance, brother or sister, or in any way related to a soldier, you are part of a world that is slightly less known here. Because here in the US, we have a volunteer army, and in Israel, there is a draft. It is required.
So, here we have a much bigger country, and the military families are their own sub set in our culture. In America it is not common practice for all 18 year olds to go to the army following high school. Here, if one is lucky, there is college. Then there are those who volunteer to be soldiers in the US armed services. People who do this, should be afforded rights and services when (and if) they return from their missions here or abroad. If they are injured, they should be given the best medical attention that exists. They should be supported in every possible way: emotionally, financially, and physically. Because they have given of their lives in service and they have put themselves in harm’s way. Whether the war (or wars) are justified or not, I think soldiers returning from war, or combat missions, or service of any kind should be treated with the utmost respect. Their families should be well cared for (in perpetuity) if they are killed in action or cannot work due to injuries (physical or mental). There shouldn’t be even one homeless veteran. It is shameful and outrageous there are so many.
I have not held a gun in my hands since I returned mine when I completed my two-year service in 1987. I don’t want my son Max to play with toy guns. I will not buy them. I will not allow them as gifts. Yes, he is only (almost) five. I have no idea what he may ask for or want in the future. Saying never is tricky, but thankfully, lately he’s all about cars and Hot Wheels and cats and such. I teach him to use his words when he’s angry. I hope he grows up to be just about anything but a soldier.
When a family has their son or daughter volunteer to go into the army, as is the case these days here in the US, I think that is worthy of something. At minimum, respect. And respect should mean that veterans are treated well. Period. And there should not have to be a discussion about whether the war is right or wrong so as to justify whether they deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, understanding and real tangible help when they return home. They do deserve it. Yes. They do. Every bit of it and more.
And I don’t understand the concept of Veteran’s Day sales. It makes no sense to me. People have died, or are injured; is let’s go buy stuff really the answer?! I don’t understand it. More people need to be aware of what the veterans experiences are, what the history is here, not what the best deal on furniture, electronics, or toys is (today, hurry, get great deals, 30% off!).
The toy guns. I hate them. I hate them and I won’t buy them for Max. Instead, I buy him colors, paints, pens and notebooks he can fill with words, drawings, and stories. I give him things he can build (or knock down) without hurting anyone. I teach gentle hands (with people, animals, and places). I want to believe my intentions and actions will give Max a place where peace has a chance to happen.
I dedicate this post to all the brave men and women, past, present and future who have served or will serve this country at war or at peace. Thank you.
Here is a collection of websites and articles:
John Moore and a photo of grief from Arlington National Cemetary
A dog keeps watch
The first woman from the Oklahoma National Guard killed in combat will be laid to rest: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=511&articleid=20111110_11_A4_CUTLIN331370
At War: Notes from the Front Lines (about homeless veterans): http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/08/study-finds-homeless-veterans-stay-homeless-longer-than-others/
100K Homes: http://100khomes.org/
From Sesame Workshop and Sesame Street:Talk, Listen, Connect –Toolkit for Military Families: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/tlc
Families Near and Far: http://www.familiesnearandfar.org/resources/grief/coviewing/
Fantastic info about grief and the grieving process on their resources page –Good Grief: http://www.good-grief.org/
Talking with Kids About News: http://www.pbs.org/parents/talkingwithkids/news/
Courage to Talk (regarding war injuries): http://www.couragetotalk.org/talking.children.php
Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life: http://www.pbs.org/pov/regardingwar/conversations/coming-home/
The Bob Woodruff Foundation: helping to heal the physical and psychological wounds of war. http://www.reMIND.org
National Veterans Art Museum: http://www.nvvam.org/
International Art Therapy Organization: http://www.internationalarttherapy.org/militarytrauma.html
Women, War & Peace: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/category/full-episodes/