Memorial Day is a huge mix of emotions for me and a lot of other Veterans here in America. Through my reading to understand my own situation and that of other Veterans I came across this article from the Angry Staff Officer blog coupling this article with what I have been seeing come out form Sebastian Junger and his new book Tribe, I’ve made an evolution of sorts in my view of Memorial Day and what role we as Veterans play in it.
Before I get into my evolution of thought I want to just first go over and take the time to explain at least from my perspective (and I can honestly only speak from personal experience) some of that storm of thought and emotion of Memorial Day.
“How the fuck am I still alive?”
“Why the fuck am I still alive?”
“Goddammit why him and not me?”
“Was there something that I could have done?”
The day is like the perfect storm of raw nerves and emotions.
Regret – sheer and overwhelming amounts of regret the likes of which are so overpowering it consumes the mind. Loss- Never are you going to find a human connection like you had with your brothers in arms and that connection and part of your personal history that from a time in your life that was so transformative to who you are today is forever gone. Mix emotions like this with a Military- Civilian gap and you head on a path to more toxic emotions like resentment and you wind up a self imposed isolation. A lot of Veterans find themselves in a place like this surrounding ourselves in a wall of the most toxic and negative emotions lashing out at people we don’t think understand us but whom we’re unwilling to connect with and share our experiences. I’ve been down that road and you know what? It’s not worth it. It’s damaging to not just the divide between ourselves as Veterans and the Civilian population but your personal relationships in your life. I get it! Brothers and Sisters I know how it can get to this point I just got back from it myself.
Now here is the evolution of thought. We all bear some stake in the divide no single party is blameless in this increasing Military- Civilian gap. But like Sebastian Junger points out it’s not malicious and not specifically directed at us. It’s a societal trend this disconnection we find between us and what sustains our way of daily life. Our way of life has never been so isolating as it is these days. I can see that now quite clearly.
I understand the sentiment of not wanting to be thanked for your service especially Memorial Day of all the days. I will be the first to tell you I don’t know that I deserve to be thanked for what I’ve done because I have gotten so much more out of my service than I have ever contributed with it. From maturing into a man with such a great example of what the right thing to do is from some of the best examples of men our country has to offer to laying the foundation of principles and values that I base my everyday life on. Nothing I do could pay back for affording me the opportunity to be the man I am today and getting to do a job that I absolutely loved with people who I can’t even formulate into words how much they mean to me. It was an absolute privilege that not everyone is afforded and for that I am thankful.
I have an obligation to the men who never came home to bridge that gap and express all the things they will never be able to say. We find ourselves in a unique position in history our generation of service members. We can put voice to the lessons learned from our time in war. Lessons like human connection, we stand as a small group who has rediscovered human connection on a level that hasn’t been known outside of war and disaster in our society as it slips further towards isolation and apathy. Last October I attended an event in Vegas and while I was there I was able to relate what I was dealing with coming home from war to a gentleman who had just recently lost his father who was a Korean War Veteran. His father hadn’t talked much about the war but I hopefully I was able to serve as a bridge and a window into a part of his fathers past that he never understood. That was one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in my life being able to do that for another human being. It is our obligation to honor those that came before us and who are by merit of Military service part of our lineage now.
So the next time somebody says to you “Thank you for your service” on Memorial Day please please please be an arbiter of change and open a dialogue and bridge that gap we owe it to those who came before us and those who never made it home to be ambassadors of our proud lineage.