When my sister was a little girl, a neighbor lady asked her what our Dad did for a living. Sister told her “he shoots at bulls”. That sweet, southern lady didn’t mock her for what was obviously not true.
Sister wasn’t lying, though. When she asked Daddy what he did, he told her he “sat around and shot the bull”. No, he wasn’t a bull fighter or hunter. He was a Marine .
Like many men I have come to know who have served, Daddy didn’t like to talk about what he did or might have to do. I’m sure he definitely didn’t want to explain to his little girl what he might have to do in Southeast Asia. Fortunately for us, he never had to go past Okinawa, although what he did there remains a mystery to this day.
Daddy’s first cousin, Terry, was even more mysterious and a little legendary. He served 3 tours in Vietnam, won 1 or more Purple Hearts (he wouldn’t say how many, of course) and was finally brought home after the last round of injuries. He still has the shrapnel in his eyes.
After he returned, he denied such a thing as PTSD existed. However, he proceeded to carry on a battle here in the States, as he rose up through the ranks at ATF working with DEA in the war on drugs in Florida in the 80’s, ala Miami Vice. Like Daddy, he wouldn’t talk about any of it, but he had a house full of security cameras, Dobermans trained to kill, knives in both boots, and multiple guns on him at all times. I thought he couldn’t be cooler.
I randomly met his commanding officer in Vietnam, now a retired Brigadier General, here in San Diego in the late 90’s and he literally cried recalling Terry’s bravery on the battlefield. I was simultaneously taken aback by the flow of tears by this man of steel, and enormously proud. And I was really curious about their battlefield experiences. But, other than the emotion, General Neil shared nothing of detail.
Uncle Jake was an Army Colonel married to Daddy’s sister Juanita, and stationed at Fort Benning. Other than being labeled the crazy, weird, annoying figure in the family, I know absolutely nothing about his time in the service. He and I developed an odd relationship, and he was reprimanded on many occasions by Aunt Juanita and told to “stop arguing with a child”. He wouldn’t hesitate to debate me endlessly on all things political, but would clam up at the mention of his time in the Army. Looking back, I see him differently. He was one of the few adults who took me and my political views very seriously, and respected me enough to debate, regardless of my age.
These were my childhood family’s “band of brothers”. Men who were equally brash, silly, serious and quietly still. Never men to boast or reveal their fraternity secrets. It’s like they took that same code that Liz and I did during our Delta Zeta Initiation Ceremony. The one in which we promised to safeguard the Sisterhood’s secrets, and literally sealed the oath with the proverbial handshake.
I wanted so badly to be in their fraternity. It’s probably why I grew up fascinated by anything Military related. I LOVED the tours of West Point and Annapolis, and fantasized going there.
One of my most moving childhood memories was of a very cold day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where we stood reverently, paying our respects to the soldier who’s name no one knew, but who gave his life for our freedoms.
Some teenagers were being loud and horsing around, and the soldiers standing guard chastised them in such a way that they melted into the heaps of pathetic fools that they were. I was shocked at the display of disrespect from those kids.
How could anyone not deeply love and respect what these men did for us?
Growing up, I spent endless hours watching war movies. By the time I stood at the Tomb, I had already seen most of the classics. Some of my favorites are “ The Dirty Dozen”, “The Bridge on The River Kwai”, ”Bataan”, “Back to Bataan” , and the “Deer Hunter”. I have watched every hour of the TV Series “World At War”. At 15 I turned in a book report on “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”, the teacher looked at me like I should turn in my girl card. Shouldn’t I have written about something by Fannie Flagg, she asked with her eyes? I thought she was the weirdo. Why didn’t she love them and want to know as much about them and their experiences as I did? I got an A on the report, so maybe I persuaded her to love them a little more. I like to think so, anyway.
No doubt I watched all those movies and read the books, to have a peek inside the fraternity and be a member vicariously. Who wouldn’t want to be among those heroes who were brave, and strong, and loved their country and what it stood for so much that they were willing to die for it?
As I got older, the enemies changed and so did the battle fronts. For 444 days Americans were held hostage by a new enemy, Radical Islam. I spent less time reading about Vietnam and WWII and shifted my focus to the ME, which has brought us the War on Terror.
While the enemy has changed from nation states to a hybrid nation states/bad actor war of ideology, our military heroes are as courageous and heroic now as immortalized in “To Hell and Back” starring the great Audie Murphy. I hear the expression “the greatest generation” and I think that’s a disservice to the service men and women who right now, on this Veterans Day, are in the sights of an enemy’s rifle, or about to step on an IED or face a car loaded with a suicide bomber as it approaches their check point.
How could anyone not deeply love and respect what these men do for us? It’s a question I ask constantly as I watch and report on our government; this administration and all of our elected officials .
We are already in the thick of a Presidential Election, and even Republicans are arguing over how much to cut the defense budget. A budget that not only keeps Americans safe here at home, but provides the funds to take care of the “greatest” of our citizenry, our Veterans.
I’m tired of hearing arguments over whether or not hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars should be going to fund abortions at Planned Parenthood, or what to do with the 12 million ILLEGALS who trampled our laws to come here and take taxpayer welfare, when we’re not taking care of the lives of our veterans. The lives of those who fought for us and of whom many are homeless, suffering with depression and suicide, and literally dying waiting for medical care. Today we have reports that $142 Million dollars in bonuses were handed out to administrators in VA in spite of these deaths due to their lack of care.
While it may be mysterious what it’s like on the battlefield, for those of us not in the foxholes, what’s not a mystery are the sacrifices these heroes make for us emotionally, financially and medically.
It’s wonderful to celebrate and honor our “greatest” on Veteran’s Day with flag pics on social media. But, we need to honor them every day. And, It starts with funding everything they need to fight their battles abroad and when they return. The fact that we aren’t is the greatest mystery of all.
*This blog post is dedicated to Eve Nasby; friend and patriot who’s career is dedicated to helping veterans transition from active duty to civilian life.