In this article I write about honoring veterans.
Today, I walked into the grocery store and saw that if I buy a certain bottle of wine a small percentage of the profit will go to Operation Homefront in order to help veterans. I noticed that Heinz Ketchup says that they will give a portion of their sales to the Wounded Warrior Project. Are we really honoring our veterans by using them to sell condiments, cheap wine, and whatever else? Does anyone seriously get a sense of satisfaction that they’ve helped or honored a veteran when they buy a yellow ribbon magnet or give five dollars to one of the hundreds of these new “veteran support groups”? Maybe we’ve forgotten how this all started.
The Great War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. Months later, the Treaty of Versailles made it permanent and official but the original purpose of November 11th was to commemorate the end of “the war to end all wars” and to honor the veterans who fought and died. Of course the war to end all wars didn’t end all wars and we were back at it not even a generation later. In 1954 after WWII and the Korean War, congress changed it to Veteran’s Day, a day to pause and honor all the men and women who fought and died in the wars our country decided to fight.
I was born seventeen days before the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam was signed at the Paris Peace Accords. That ended direct combat operations for the US in Vietnam. Except for that two weeks and some change I lived most of my years in relative peace until September 11th, 2001. This horrible act birthed two terrible wars that have been trudging on ever since. I reenlisted the day after the towers fell and was sent to Iraq. Even so I feel war has been the anomaly in my life, but today I teach college and I realize that when these wars started most of the students in my classes were five, six, or maybe seven years old. Peace is the anomaly in their lives. What does that do to a generation?
Less than one percent of the US population is serving in our military right now. The latest numbers put our population at approximately 309 million people and there are 2,226,883 men and women in the armed forces. In comparison there are 21.2 million veterans today. 3.6 million of them have service connected disabilities, millions more are trying to get their service connected disability rating. One veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. We are losing 22 of our best and bravest every day, 22 veterans who survived the wars only to die at their own hand in the land they fought for.
My uncle was a marine in Vietnam. Today he’s been trying to file a claim with the VA for the past three years from injuries he incurred during the time he served. He is surviving solely on social security, living alone with his old dog Roxy, in a fifth wheel trailer in the middle of the Cascade Mountains. I have a good friend who served with me in Iraq who has finally come to grips with his PTSD and is seeking help but the VA says that he drinks too much for them to give him medication. Of course he drinks too much; he is trying to self medicate. Another of the men who served in my platoon during the war was just arrested for the sixth or seventh time last week. He’s addicted to meth and breaks into houses at night to steal and support his habit. Another Vietnam Veteran I know had a stroke from smoking crack, which resulted in being a triple amputee. He told me he had turned to drugs because of the hell he experienced in combat. They used to call him Sergeant Boomerang in country because he always came back. Now he lives in a run down assisted living facility in Northeast Portland hundreds of miles from his family with no one to visit him. I don’t know, maybe if we all buy enough ketchup something good will happen for these people.
I haven’t seen it personally, but I’m sure these large veterans groups help. I’ve looked at their numbers though, and I see CEOs making hundreds of thousands of dollars and a very low percentage of the money collected actually going to the veterans. I encourage you to look at this as well before giving to any of them; it’s public record. But beyond that, I encourage you to honor our veterans, and honoring them doesn’t mean giving spare change to buy a magnet that says you support them. Go out of your way to find a veteran and do something to honor them, to help them, to support them.
Find the Sergeant Boomerang in your community. There are assisted living centers in every neighborhood and I guarantee that every single one of them has a forgotten veteran. Go read to them, or just speak to them. Please. Talk to your uncle, father, mother, brother, sister, grandparents, and ask them to tell you a story about their service. Tell them you’re proud of what they’ve done. But the best thing you can do is to find just one veteran who needs help and do something to help them. We may not be able to end war, but we can honor the small percentage of those who risk their lives to fight them.