Before you leave for the Veterans Day parade, there are five things I think vets would like you to know. Of course, I can’t speak for all vets, so I consulted the 2011 Pew Research Center poll of 2,500 vets and 2,000 civilians.
• First, most us would have you know we don’t like war. Yes, we train for it, practice it, and do it well, but we don’t like it. We know better than any legislator that war involves battle and as Col. Dave Hackworth said, “War is hell, but actual combat is a….” (Because this is a chaplain’s column, maybe you’d better just Google the remainder of Hackworth’s colorful quote.)
We hate war because we value our lives as well as those who serve with us. I suppose that’s why more than one-third of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan expressed ambivalence over whether either war was worth the cost.
We should be clear to all potential foes that while we never seek a fight, neither will we cower from one. You can count on the fact that we will go where we are sent and we will even go again.
• Sometimes we feel alone. The war on terror marks the longest period of sustained conflict in our nation’s history. Yet only one-half of 1 percent of Americans has served on active-duty since Sept. 11. In some sense, our minority status leaves us feeling like paid mercenaries – and everyone knows mercenaries are expendable.
I guess that explains why the survey reported that 84 percent of vets believe civilians don’t understand our problems and 83 percent of surveyed civilians agreed with that assessment.
• It’s nice that three-quarters of Americans say they have thanked someone in the military, but some of us are starting to feel over-thanked.
To a person, most vets will say, “Thank us, but please don’t worship or pity us.” The draft ended 40 years ago, so most of us chose to enlist. With that enlistment, we’ve enjoyed pretty good pay and benefits for our sacrifices.
• We aren’t all crazy with PTSD. While the survey says that four in 10 vets say they’ve had a hard time adjusting, and 37 percent report post-traumatic stress, that doesn’t mean we are unable to cope. Yes, we do carry some baggage, and that baggage may have shifted during our long flight home, but we are learning to reintegrate into our civilian roles.
• In fact, most of us are doing OK. The large majority of us returned without getting shot at or losing our friends to IEDs. And even those who did see such carnage have returned to civilian life without debilitating or permanent damage.
I’d even venture to say that most of us are doing better than OK. A majority of the post-Sept. 11 veterans in the poll say that the military matured them with self-confidence. So if you’ll excuse a prideful boast, vets tend to believe that training and experience has given us a leg up on most civilians. And that, I believe, is as you caringly intended it to be.
So this Veterans Day, bring your family together for a well-deserved three-day weekend. Go to a movie. Have a barbeque. But please don’t forget to go to the parade, because in the words of Will Rogers, “We can’t all be heroes. Somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”