Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Letter To A Serviceman, On The Occasion Of Veteran's Day

Excerpts from a letter that I wrote to a serviceman.


Dear [Serviceman],

... I have to confess that despite being married to a (peacetime) veteran I’m not all that clear on what should be done to honor our veterans. ... When veterans are recognized, it tends to be in a sort of stylized fashion. I’ve never been one to do anything in a stylized fashion, so I’ve kind of avoided that sort of thing. I have to wonder if it rings hollow in veterans’ ears to have some politician who’s been backstabbing them for decades give a speech on Veteran’s Day that manages to contain every usual platitude about serving our country while at the same time condescending to what he obviously thinks are poor stupid brutes who didn’t know any better than to serve their country. But the only other Veteran’s Day events that go on there are sales. Honestly I wonder if the veterans would rather be honored by 30% discounts on mattresses than this sort of tripe speech.

I have a friend who did several tours in the Sandbox and it always seemed to me that he was happy that people were grateful for his service, but at the same time knew that many of the people who thanked him were just mouthing the words that they’d been taught to say, because they had no idea what they were being grateful for. I wonder if my words thanking veterans would have any meaning at all if they are not motivated by a sufficiently deep understanding of the hell our veterans have been through on our behalf. But when I start to think about it, it just literally blows my mind that a person would go overseas and risk death and watch his companions die in gruesome ways so that I could have nothing more important to worry about than missing a good deal on cube steaks at the market. I honestly don’t know what to say. “Thank you” sounds so shallow and meaningless in the teeth of such a sacrifice. What do you say to a person who’s proven himself willing to die for you? Just “thank you for your service”?

How does a veteran come home to a country that’s largely indifferent to him? At least some veterans would probably prefer to skip the kind of fawning ticker-tape parade and endless rubber-chicken banqueting that I suppose would be the alternative to silence, not only because those who volunteer to serve their country tend to be self-effacing but also because they’re more than just their service and would probably like to get back to the part of their lives that isn’t about military service. I just know that it would be extremely difficult for me to have made such a large sacrifice and come home to a country where women dress up in garish pink costumes to spit on everything I’ve just done on their behalf. “You’re welcome,” I’d mouth silently at my television.

But then again, I’m not a veteran. I don’t think I’m the type who would go in the first place. I’m far too cowardly and I hate participating in any kind of struggle with real consequences, though I’ll do it if the need arises. I’m proud of my husband’s service, and I cry a little (at least inside) whenever I think that none of my boys might be able to follow in his father’s footsteps. ... I’m proud that my grandfathers fought in World War II and that one of my grandfathers also worked on the Apollo missions. And I’m glad that you and your buddies are over there fighting for me. So this Veteran’s Day, know that when it comes your turn to be a veteran and return to your home, that at least one of the people out there who is saying nothing is merely overwhelmed with gratitude.