Another Write-wing Conspirator

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    Welcome to my curmudgeondom. As you’ll soon learn, your reactions to my missives here are likely to range from fear to loathing to tears to outright rage—and I just might even evoke from you an occasional sober nod or two.

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  • About this “curmudgeon” guy…

    Armchair philosopher, politically-incorrect political commentator, raconteur, retired air traffic controller, dilettante truck driver, US Army veteran, recluse, sometime-writer, redneck convert neè Buckeye, ne'er-do-well, bon vivant, unrepentant libertine, unapologetic libertarian, and (of course) curmudgeon…

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Veterans Day

Posted by The Curmudgeon on November 13, 2009

Note: This started as a simple email to friends and fellow veterans. Owing to the response I received, I decided to spruce it up a little and include it here. —Jim

To my fellow veterans:

Perhaps it’s because of the times we live in, with troops in harm’s way. Or it might be the still-fresh memory of the massacre at Ft. Hood. Or it could be owing to recent communications with former brothers (and sisters) -in-arms. Whatever the source, I’m feeling particularly sentimental about Veterans Day—our Day—this time around. It always happens, but…for some reason, it’s a stronger feeling today.

Some of you I served with. Some, I didn’t. No matter. I’ve always felt that—regardless of our respective histories—we share something very special. I suspect you all feel the same.

Some time ago, I was seated at a blackjack table in Tunica, MS. I’d been engaged in sporadic conversation with the young man seated alongside me, and learned that he’d recently returned from his second tour in Iraq. I asked the usual questions (we all know them—right?) : Where are you from? What’s your MOS? How long’ve you been in?

This, of course, revealed to him (we all recognize the signs and subtle signals) that I’d spent time in the military, as well—and in fact we had Army service in common (like I said: we all recognize the telltale signs of a brother-in-arms). He then surprised me by extending his hand and saying: “Thanks for your service.”

Such a gesture seems to have become more common in recent years—and I kinda like it. However, no one had ever said it to me before; frankly, it caught me a little off-guard. Yes, I’d served. My military career was, however, decidedly unremarkable. No hero. Just did my job—like most of us. To be honest, I felt a tinge of humility hearing a “Thank-you” from someone so recently returned from the jaws of Hell.

Almost sheepishly, I grasped the proffered hand and shook it firmly. “No,” I said. “Thank-you. My time was long ago and a helluva lot easier.”

And then he said it.

“You served,” he said evenly, still gripping my hand. “That’s all that matters.”

And the steady, certain look in his eyes confirmed that he’d meant what he’d said.

He was right.

It doesn’t matter whether we were cooks, grunts, supply clerks, swabbies, wrench-turners, jarheads, or cannon-cockers.

We served—and that is all that matters. Many—most—didn’t. We did.

I’m reminded of a Marine recruiting billboard showing a split-view of a young man’s face. One half was the boyish look he’d borne before he enlisted; the other half was the steel-jawed look that Uncle Sam put on him. The caption was simple: “The change is forever.”

And it is. It changed us. All of us. And we’ll always be different for it. Regardless of which branch each of us served in or what we did.

How many times have you sat around swapping lies with other vets when you suddenly noticed the rapt attention being paid by one of them, those who never took our oath?

We share a common bond—one that will never be broken. It’s a special fraternity. It’s something that they will never have, nor even completely understand.

I pity them.

They’ll never know what it feels like.

Whether you did a two-year stint courtesy of your draft board…or had nothing better to do for a few years after surviving high school…or felt a call to duty…or made a twenty- or thirty-year career out of it…

You served. We served. And whether we like it or not, we still have feelings that stir themselves up from time to time.

We know what it feels like, and sometimes have to choke down some pretty strong emotions. They haven’t a clue as to what that’s all about.

They don’t know our friendships spawned amid shared adversity, our camaraderie forged by experiences they can’t even imagine. They’ll never know those memories that we won’t—or can’t—talk about except amongst ourselves, our brothers. They don’t understand that particular annoyance we feel when the entertainment superstar of the moment butchers the national anthem at a football game, or why we feel compelled to throttle those who fail to remove their hats or place their hands over their hearts or at least shut the hell up while it’s being played. They puzzle over why we rail against a giveaway to someone who earned nothing, but we’ll give anything—anything—to one of our brothers in need. They’ll never know that bittersweet tug on our heart-strings whenever we hear the mournful strains of Taps being played.

I’ve been waging a years-long battle to try to get people—them—to understand the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It sends me into a slow boil every Memorial Day when I see TV and newspaper ads proclaiming: “Thanks to all our veterans!”

I appreciate the sentiment, but… that’s not our day; that day is for those who didn’t return—and blurring the line between the two occasions cheapens their sacrifice.

I’ve probably aggravated a lot of people by correcting that misconception.

This is our day. This is the one we earned when we raised our hands and swore our oaths—when we entered that special fraternity…when we underwent that change that we’ll take to our graves…when we were all bound to one another forever.

Thank-you all for your service. Enjoy your day; you earned it. Go grab the free chow at Applebee’s and Golden Corral, and be appreciative that some, at least, acknowledge your service and sacrifice. Muster-up a dash of humility if a kid says “Thanks” today because a teacher or parent had enough class to instill that sense of values. Choke back your tears when the bugler plays Taps at The Tomb (or let them flow; you earned that right, too). Call an old Army buddy (or Navy; you get the idea). Shake hands with fellow vets you know; they’re your brothers-in-arms, and it’s their day, too.

Having now gotten all maudlin, I’ll leave you with one final thought expressed by Rudyard Kipling:

“I’ve eaten your bread and salt,
I’ve drunk your water and wine.
The deaths ye died I watched beside,
and the lives ye led were mine.”

Jim

“A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America ‘ for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.'”author unknown

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2 Responses to “Veterans Day”

  1. lynda said

    Absolutely engaging article you've written here Jim. Very eye-opening also. As one of 'them', as an American citizen, I've always considered myself extremely patriotic, but now I find myself envious of the respect & comraderie you all share, and you all so deserve. To all who have served this country, I send out a big THANK YOU!!! It does NOT go unnoticed.Lynda 🙂

  2. Anonymous said

    Thank you Jim!

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