Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Praise of Military Veterans

Today is Veteran's Day.  Before it was Veteran's Day, it Armistice Day, the day that celebrates the end of World War I.  World War II was far more brutal in terms of lives lost and far reaching impact, but World War I was the war that stripped away all sorts of illusions and also showed us how technology might be used for destruction (think mustard gas).  I've written a longer post about Armistice Day here.

Now Armistice Day has become Veteran's Day, a day perhaps less somber than Armistice Day or Memorial Day.  On Veteran's Day, we celebrate all veteran's, but on Memorial Day, we celebrate those who died in military service.

I do wonder about the future of Veteran's Day as fewer and fewer people know any veterans.  Or maybe as we wind down two wars which have lasted more than a decade, we're all about to meet more veterans.  I think of college students.  When I first started working at my current school, we had one or two veterans attending.  I suspect the reasons are many, but the main one was that most people eligible for VA benefits had already finished their schooling, while younger military folks were off fighting.  Now, as more soldiers come home, we're seeing those numbers increase.

I have some older, Baby Boomer friends who are anti-military in ways that make me think they've never met many military folks.  I understand their Vietnam War era issues, but their world view seems a bit narrow to me.

Of course, my world view is shaped by my experience as the daughter of an Air Force officer.  My dad had finished his active duty by my early childhood years, but he continued to serve in the Reserves until he retired.

In some ways, we were lucky, since he wasn't wounded in the many ways that others who served in the Vietnam War would be.  He joined the Air Force because he knew his draft number was coming up, and he didn't want to be drafted into the Army.  I remember the shock I felt when he told me that fact.  I always thought he had joined because of his patriotic feelings.  And he joined fairly early in the effort, 1962 or so.  I hadn't thought that the draft had been in force back then, but it was.

So, he joined the Air Force and trained to become a navigator.  Along the way, he met and married my mom.  They were stationed in France, the last troops to be in France before Charles de Gaulle kicked them all out.  Because they were in France, they could travel all across Europe.  They had a view of the world that they shared with me and my sister.

Because of my dad's Reserve duties, we, too, travelled all sorts of places.  One year, his two week active duty tour required him to go to Denver, and so we all went and had a huge 5 week adventure in the western states.  Along the way, we stopped to visit many of their friends that they'd made in during their Air Force days in France.  He more often did his two week tours in the Pentagon, which meant that my mom and me and my sister had lots of time to explore the D.C. area--we went to every museum and attraction before it was all done.

My parents have continued to go to fascinating places because they served.  My mom is great at devising trips where they fly Space A.  If there's room on the plane, they can go.  They need to have flexibility in terms of travel and accommodation, but my mom has always been great at that.

I'm hoping that our current and future VA administrations will take care of veterans the way my parents have been taken care of.  We may not always agree with the wars that have been waged, but veterans are men and women who served their country in a unique way, and they deserve to get the benefits promised to them--and more.

Here's a picture of my father during his active duty days:

He's the one kneeling in the far lower right as you look at the picture.  I'm amazed by how young they all look, and at the same time, the sort of timelessness of the picture.  Air Force uniforms haven't changed all that much since this picture was taken.

Did he really change the world by serving in France and flying missions to Asia?  How can we know for sure?  Perhaps the Soviets didn't invade West Germany because they knew of nearby troops.  It's hard to argue that his missions to Asia brought an earlier end to the Vietnam War, since it would continue for a lot longer. 

But we often do not know the impact of our work.  We must do the work that is required of us, even if we're unsure of its import.

Many active duty military people and veterans have done that work.  So few of us are aware of what they do, and today is a good day to stop and to feel some appreciation--as well as the hope that some day wars will cease and this kind of service won't be necessary.

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