They say only 1% of American’s will ever don a uniform and serve in the armed forces, so I guess that makes me a 1%’er in that sense. Curiously as I look through my friends list on FaceBook, I find a much higher percentage of vets as my friends and family. Perhaps there lies the keyword, “family”.
Veterans of all branches come together forming a very unique brotherhood (Pardon my sexist terms, I have never been nor will I ever be politically correct.) that to my knowledge doesn’t exist anywhere else in society. People I’ve never known become instant close friends once we realize we’re both veterans, and I see this everywhere I look, it’s not just me. Despite the open rivalry between branches, against anyone and everyone else we are united as family, and we won’t let anyone talk bad about our brothers, even if they are squids, jar heads, zoomies, or even Coast Guards.
I joined the Army well after Vietnam, just before the first gulf war commonly known as Desert Storm. Military still had far less respect from the public back then than they enjoy now. Nobody ever thanked us for our service until after 9/11 it seems when it became “en vogue” (to quote my company’s HR President last year) to do so. Getting a military discount at places was possible, but you had to look for it, and always had to ask for it whether in full uniform or not.
I was always fine with that too. Like most vets, I didn’t join for the “great pay” or to be a hero. I had my own reasons and that was all I needed. Like most Vets, I don’t talk about my experiences or opinions with anyone other than family and my extended family of Vets. You wouldn’t understand it any more than I can explain well enough what I do for work now unless you too were employed in the telecommunications field. Then there are some things we just don’t want to talk about at all except to those we know would understand. My own wife, like millions of other spouses can’t understand that we think they wouldn’t understand if we told them.
It’s not that we think they don’t care or that we don’t trust them, but we honestly think they won’t understand and I think a good part of that stems from our first day in the military. From day one it is beaten into our thick skulls that ONLY our buddy can help us. We don’t leave our buddy, they need us, we need them. We don’t leave anyone behind. Great heroes have risked life and limb to bring home lost buddies because of that principle. Even in basic training up until graduation we are led to believe even our leaders are out to get us, and in truth, they were. They are out to cull the ones who won’t make it. It takes a certain commitment and mindset to be a member of the armed forces and those who don’t have it will endanger themselves and others.
So we learned to rely on each other and distrust everyone else from the beginning. In the field, down range, or wherever you want to call it is the crucible that sets and hardens the bond for a lifetime. When we finally come home, we will never again be the young boys and girls that ran off seeking a GI Bill or off to tour the world with wide eyes and soft feet. Every soldier, marine, airman, or sailor regardless of seeing combat will return different to varying degrees, but they will all share that common bond of brotherhood.
Those who come home with deeper psychological scars will likely remain deep within their circle of brothers unless they can somehow overcome some of those scars and open up more, but they will likely never leave the circle completely. It’s who we are, and all we have when the VA turns against us, when the Government we swore allegiance turns against us, for some, even their families and communities turn against them. Even out of uniform for decades, our “buddies” still have our backs. It’s the only real insurance we have that is guaranteed.
So if your Vet doesn’t want to talk about it. Don’t push, don’t blame them. It’s who we are, it’s how we survive and cope. Also please remember that Veterans Day is for all who served, past and present, alive or dead. Memorial Day is for remembering those who gave all. Please don’t thank a living Vet on this day, honor him by honoring the fallen.