"When I think of Veterans Day, I think of the millions of families in America who have and still deal with the very things my father, brother and I have and do and more."
The Vietnam War, or at least the media's interpretation of it, was something I watched on television as a child. It had no real meaning to me at that young age, it was simply something I saw along with other shows at the time. Little did I know just how much meaning this war and the effects it had on my family would end up having on me.
The effects the War in Vietnam had on my father were quite different from and similar to the ones they had on my brother and I. My father provided care for soldiers and civilians who were blown apart and wounded in more ways than I still have the ability to attempt to imagine, something that found him returning to the United States and providing health care to everyone from doctors and lawyers to fellow veterans or the homeless alcoholic that wandered into his walk-in-clinics for decades. He is still taking care of others to this day; I think if he ever stops he will pass away.
Fathers and sons go through many things as a son is growing up, the death of my mother was not one we anticipated. The circumstances surrounding her death certainly aggravated the traumas that circulated through our home. Her illness and death served as further incentive to provide care to others for my father. It also served as motive to place me on a similar path in life.
For many veterans of the War in Vietnam, there lingers a desire to serve others. I watched as my father did just this - serve others, over years of time. As I watched it never occurred to me that I was sharing in the very trauma my father was, I simply learned that taking care of other people was the right thing to do. I spent the next nearly 25 years providing care for people with disabilities, seniors, and others no matter who they were otherwise from a social identification perspective.
The simple fact of the matter is that I turned age 18 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. By that time I had already volunteered at the local hospital, shaving faces and running errands for the nurses. I had made fumbling and stupid mistakes as I attempted to care for others. Rowdy and rebellious, I said things to my father I am ashamed to repeat here, but the lesson of caring for others is so ingrained in me it will never fade.
Epilepsy, as a result of a heat stroke while in the service, did not stop me from taking care of others. What did was a diagnosis of osteoarthritis and surgery on both knees, as well as a doctor informing me that I have four bones in each foot that are at risk of breaking. The hands-on care provision part of my life was forced to an end, but service continues through the written word.
Some people, including fellow veterans, have asked me if my brother or I have been affected by Agent Orange or one of its derivatives. It scared my brother and I badly enough that neither of us have had children of our own, along with my mother's diagnosis, but both my brother and I do not have an Agent Orange related diagnosis at this time. What is clear is the effect of the trauma my father experiences has had on my brother and I. We have both been scarred by a war neither one of us fought in.
It might be easy for me to point at the military, the government, or perhaps the tendency of this nation to pursue wars without thinking of taking care of soldiers and family members adequately afterward. It might be easy for me to point and say, 'This is why I have never had children of my own.' What good would it do? The politicians of America will continue to eat steak and lobster, the veterans of America will continue to receive inadequate compensation for their service to this nation.
When I think of Veterans Day, I think of the millions of families in America who have and still deal with the very things my father, brother and I have and do and more. I think of the political leaders of America who, despite the War in Vietnam, did not have too much of an issue with sending soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq. I think of the employers in America who think, 'Sorry - we don't hire your kind.' I think of the people in this nation who still view veterans from a perspective dictated by Hollywood, instead of the reality.
It is incredible to me to watch the advertisements around Veterans Day, it really is. Free meals from limited menus at this or that restaurant, 20% off of this or that item at this store or the other. Do these places really understand just how much this is both appreciated and how appalling it is at the same time? Most of the veterans in America are living on limited VA incomes; how are we supposed to buy anything, even if it is 20% off? A meal from a limited menu, while nice, certainly says that we are somewhat respected I guess. Such advertisements certainly make a business appear patriotic though I suppose.
At least some businesses take a moment to recognize us at all; others don't bother. Over the years I have wondered just what goes through the minds of some people in America when Veterans Day comes around. Do people sit at home or on vacation, thinking to themselves, 'Hot Dog! A three-day weekend!' Maybe they get bummed out because they have to work. Of course, the politicians of this nation have to appear with soldiers, or make a statement of appreciation - I simply look at these politicians and wonder why there are homeless veterans, veterans without adequate incomes or healthcare.
My father is someone I always think about on Veterans Day, his service has not stopped for a single day since the Vietnam War. He would look you straight in the face and tell you his medical career is his livelihood; I know better. After witnessing the things he did in Vietnam, it is love for his fellow person that drives him deep down. Unlike many of the politicians who are leading this nation to this very day, my father is a true American. His service to others is so ingrained that he does not see things such as race, class, gender, disability or other social identification.
There are a great many veterans just like my father in America, and they are just as service-driven. To the employer who refuses to hire veterans I can only say, 'Your loss, I won't buy your products.' To the politicians who continue to dump on veterans my statement is, 'You will never get my vote, certainly never my trust.' To the businesses that attempt to make a buck by waxing patriotic around Veterans Day I say, 'Keep it up, your ads let me know who not to buy from.'
Dad and I live peaceful lives and we like it that way. We both ended up with trauma and forms of disabilities because of our service, but the focus of our lives has been service to others; neither of us regret it for a single moment. It has taken years to reach the point where I can say that I love my father and respect what he has done for others, trauma is truly blinding. Here's to you Dad, and every single Veteran in America.
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