Every Veterans Day I am often prone to wool gathering. I can not help but think back to times that seem almost like another lifetime. It seems especially strange to be thanked for my service. It's like a jarring note introduced into the contemplation. How am I supposed to respond? More than that, it reminds me of what I did, what I saw, and how it has changed me. Is a thank you, even well meaning really what I want?
The simplest answer is: no, I want more. .45% of the US population are actively serving, and roughly 10% are Veterans. Of that percentage a laughably small percentage are actual combat Veterans (For the purposes of simplification I mean have been shot at and returned fire to an actual enemy). How can some random person coming up and saying thank you so unexpectedly, wash away the memory of a friend screaming in pain and begging for Morphine? How can a parade erase returning to an empty room in the barracks? It doesn't. For as much pride, I had in wearing the uniform, I suffered terribly for it.
Perhaps that is why it fills me with unease seeing parents dress their children as soldiers because it's "cute." My mind fills in an image of that same child screaming for someone to lay down suppressive fire, and I think if their parents could see that image they would weep bitter tears. Perhaps I'm bothered by the fact that people seem to forget that America is still at war and that some of the youngest dying in Afghanistan today are not old enough to remember 9/11. Perhaps it's just the idea that the discord in the nation caused by political rhetoric seems like a slap in the face.
I can't say exactly what about Veterans Day bothers me so much. I can tell you that I still to this day feel guilty that I went through two tours without a scratch. Other, worthier men came home without limbs, to broken marriages, and kids that didn't recognize them. I wish people would recognize my Combat Medical Badge, so that when they did thank me they could thank me for something specific. "My service" could mean picking cigarette butts out of rocks in the motorpool, or it could mean shooting at someone from the roof of the Ranger JSS. It could mean sweating to the point of dehydration in an OP, or it could mean standing in formation listening to endless safety briefings.
People thank me on Memorial Day, when they should go to Arlington and thank those far worthier individuals. People thank me on the 4th of July, when they haven't even read the document that gave birth to this nation. I don't want you to display your patriotism, in short bursts of fevered flag waving, that doesn't make me feel better about going to war for this nation. I want to believe that the American Spirit is not dead. I want the citizens of this country to take the same pride in being an American that I took in serving in this nation's military.