In our first conversation, Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life, our contributors — including veterans, family members of veterans and members of organizations that support veterans — share their own stories, offer insights on the challenges facing returning veterans, and provide tips and resources on the kinds of support that families, friends and communities can offer veterans.
My passionate concern for military veterans was sparked initially by childhood concerns about nuclear issues. Growing up during the Cold War years, I was terrified by the arms race, nuclear proliferation, "space wars," and images on television of Soviet troops marching alongside T-72 tanks in Moscow. My fifth grade fears of having to survive a nuclear holocaust drove me into reading whatever books I could find about war. It was then that I chanced upon an autobiography of a grunt's experiences during the Vietnam War, To Bear Any Burden. I was horrified to learn what men in combat endured and deeply saddened by the thought of them having to live with those experiences the rest of their lives. Out of both concern and curiosity, I began soaking up movies, news and books about war as fast as I could get my hands on them.
When I was in high school, my school district stopped observing Veteran's Day as a school holiday. I was so upset about this that I wrote a letter to the editor of The Rocky Mountain News. I wrote that I'd taken the day off of school in protest and went to go see a Veteran's Day parade. I reminded veterans that there were still young people who appreciated the sacrifices they made. To my surprise, it was published and I received a few touching letters from WWII veterans who read my letter, as well as an invitation from the Post Commander of VFW Post #1 to come visit. At the VFW, I was unexpectedly presented with a certificate of appreciation and a little round token which I was told I could redeem for a free drink at any VFW in the world once I was old enough to drink someday. Little did those gray haired men know the stories they shared with me that day planted a seed. Can you imagine being nineteen years old and liberating a concentration camp?
It became my mission to inform my peers, to make them think, to make them care. In 1991, I was fortunate enough to convince a Pearl Harbor survivor to visit my school on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. I remember how this little old man stood there watching a short video played for the class with tears streaming down his wrinkled face. Wringing his hands, he vividly recounted the sights and sounds of burning flesh and surviving the terror of such an unexpected attack. He broke a lifetime of silence that day, standing before a classroom of young strangers, his catharsis moving us all to tears of our own.
I later volunteered at a VA hospice where I was lucky enough to meet "Happy" Nazarenas, one of Colorado's last surviving WWI veterans, and a number of other men who were living out their last days. Two to a room, their personal possessions were limited. I thought it curious that of all the things they could possibly hang on to, it was often the memories, mementos, and photos from their military service that they clung tightly. The war that had once altered their young bodies and given a changed meaning to their lives still had not released its grip. But why?
Every movie I saw, every book I read, every story I listened to only reinforced the great enigma. What motivates a person to serve the military in such self-sacrificing capacities? How is it possible to move on with your life after experiencing combat? What keeps a man together under fire and inspires him to disregard his own safety to pursue heroic behaviors? How can you possibly live in the regular world after becoming a living witness to brutality? Decades later, I am now a military spouse, and I find that I am still seeking answers to these questions.
War, with its related losses and acts of love and courage, is still a mostly unfathomable topic to the average person. As a soldier's wife, I am confronted with thinking about it often while trying to keep my marriage strong under the constant strain of repeated separations and adjustments of military life. While I don't propose this qualifies me to have all the answers, I do hope that my lifelong examination of veteran's issues and my passionate concern for the quality of life they deserve will add a perspective to the discussions here on Regarding War.
Blogger and military spouse. Fifteen Months. On the challenges of a military marriage.
Stuck in Place: Struggling Through My Husband's Return »
Finding the Way Home »
After Your Soldier Returns: The Challenges of a Military Marriage »
Unexpected Gifts »
Remembering Their Stories »