a grateful heart

They fought for our freedom.

We’ve seen the pictures, when our boys came home from World War II.  When they fought alongside their brothers, when they watched their brothers die in front of them.  They fought for those who could not defend themselves.  They fought in Germany, Belgium, Austria, France… they died in those countries as well.

They came home to ticker tape parades and a country that was thankful.  They were greeted with shouts of gratitude and accolades, told that they’d done a great job.  They were given medals for their bravery and sacrifices, and their families were thanked for their sacrifices as well.

We’ve heard the stories, when our boys came home from Vietnam.  They were spit on, called baby-killers.  They were told that they were the very face of evil.  I, personally, recall a story shared with me by a veteran who was told by a pastor that he was a killer.  This man told the pastor that it was either them or him.  “It wasn’t going to be me,” he said.  I still remember this man’s story, and cherish the brief moment I had the honor of sharing with him.

In Vietnam and WWII in particular – even in World War I and Korea, our “forgotten” war – they did not all volunteer.  Some were drafted; though even with this draft they had an “out,” a means to dodge the draft.  They still went, still heeded their country’s call to action.  They still made the brave choice to go, even when some urged them not to do so.

We’ve also heard the stories of our boys in the Middle East – Afghanistan, Iraq.  We’ve seen their stories played out on the big screen.  We’ve seen politicians debate the merits of their time overseas.  We’ve seen Hollywood call them out as war-mongers and bloodthirsty animals.  They’ve become a punchline, a thing to trot out when useful by either the right or the left.

What we haven’t seen, however – what we haven’t been shown – are their scars.

They came home not to ticker tape parades or people spitting on them (the latter, at least, to my knowledge; I shudder to think of the person who would do that to a man or woman in uniform) but to silence.  They came home to a country that told them that their sacrifices were in vain.  They came home to a country that wanted to ignore the great sacrifices they made over there.

I consider it a privilege to work for a university that caters to our military.  I consider it an honor to be the granddaughter and niece of United States Marines.  I consider it an honor to call myself the cousin of both a Navy veteran (who served in the Middle East) and an active duty sailor.

What I do not consider an honor, however, is being the citizen of a country that ignores the staggering number of suicides within our veteran community each year – even each day.  I live in a country where veterans with PTSD are trotted out to make a case either against the war or to point fingers at the failing VA system.  I am ashamed by the actions of politicians who would ignore the problem and care only to make their side look better.

These men fought for us.  Plain and simple.  You may disagree and think they went and fought an unnecessary war and their sacrifices were in vain.  That is your prerogative and it is not my intent to change your mind.  I want only for you to recognize their sacrifices, and recognize that we as a nation have failed these men.

I want to take this time now to talk to you, my veterans, and my active duty soldiers – those who stand guard, ready to defend America at a moment’s notice:  I can only do so much; which, unfortunately, is not enough.  I wish I could do more.

I wish I could do more than attempt to volunteer at the VA or sit behind my computer screen and ramble on for two and a half pages of text (I think that’s where I am right now, at least).  I wish I could wrap you, my veterans, my soldiers, my protectors, up in a great big hug and fix it all.  But I can’t even do that.

I wish my thank you’s could fix the hurts you have.  I wish I could do more for you than posit that our political parties need to stop fighting and start doing.  But alas, I am neither in politics nor in a position to do anything aside from offer you my gratitude, and thank you for the sacrifices you have made – thank your families for the sacrifices you have made.

You didn’t come home to parades.  You didn’t come home to people who hailed you as heroes.  You fought in countries inhabited by murderous savages and confused citizens alike, none of whom understood what you were doing – and, at times, I am sure even you were unsure of what you were doing.  I thank you for continuing on in spite of the confusion you may have felt; I thank you for continuing on because of that confusion, determined to find your purpose.

You are my heroes, each and every one of you.  I love you all so much for volunteering – something that did not go unnoticed by me.  I admire our veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam for their courage and sacrifice.  I love them all as much as I love you; but I do love your generation was not drafted, that you volunteered even knowing that in all likelihood you would find yourself in the Middle East.

I’m so sorry that your sacrifices have gone unnoticed.  I’m sorry that my generation is more obsessed with reality TV and that your politicians are more interested in using you to meet their interests.  I’m sorry that more has not been done to help those of you who have come back with scars –both physical scars and those that run deeper than I could ever imagine.

But most of all, I thank you.  I thank you for your sacrifice; for your commitment; for your bravery even when you knew where you were going.  I thank you for loving your country enough to fight; for fighting even if you did not agree with (or did not understand) the purpose.  I thank you for coming home to tell your stories, and am sorry that I have not had the opportunity to hear all of them.

If you ever want to talk, I would welcome you to do so.  I’m happy to share contact information or if you just want to leave a comment on here and share your story.  I want to be able to thank you personally, or if you’re ever in the area, I’d be happy to talk with you and learn more.  As I said earlier, I wish there were more I could do.

But at the very least, I can do this: I can offer you my heartfelt appreciation for the sacrifices you have made.  I can shine a light on those of you who may still be dealing with scars from your service, and advocate for you when I am able.  I can thank you, and while that will never be enough, I at least want you – all of you – to know you are appreciated.

You make me proud of my country, proud to call this place my home.  America is strong because of you, and your brothers, and the collective sacrifices you have made over the years.