By Gene Marx
If you - like me - spent your prime of life in the ranks of some branch of the military and people know it, there is absolutely no escaping the cringe-worthy platitude “Thank you for your service.” I usually go out of my way to avoid any exchange at all, but if unavoidable, my usual reply is “Thanks, but I didn’t serve, I was used.”
Look, I am a Vietnam veteran, OK. And long before I completed nearly 100 combat missions, I realized that I was not one of the good guys. I was an unwitting interventionist with Navy Wings of Gold, flying cover for an invasion force. I should have known better from the start but, like my father before me, I “served,” like a mindless tool.
Forbes Magazine would have its social media readership come to more marketable concepts of 21st century military service. In short, a Veterans Day article by Diana Rau broad brushed generations of US service members. Rau meant well but her piece read like a USAA commercial. The title alone, What I Really Mean When I Say Thank You for Your Service, was enough to turn my laptop into a COVID self-isolation projectile because I knew what was coming.
“Dear Veteran, we celebrate you…thank you for creating the space for me, and so many others, to dream fearlessly.”
Let’s hope yours come without night sweats or heart-pounding triggers.
“What I mean is because of your actions and service, I don’t worry about roadside bombs enroute to meetings or the safety of my family and friends while I’m at work.”
That, Diana, is because bombs are meant for Muslim villages in the Middle East or Asia.
“My ability to experience joy and wonder are because you protected and created the space for me to appreciate life's beauty without fear.”
Believe me, “life’s beauty”, yours or anyone else’s, never entered our collective minds.
Surprisingly, the piece neglected to include, but implied nonetheless “Thank you for our freedom.”
News flash! There is not a single veteran, from Okinawa to Kandahar, who served and or fought for anyone’s freedom. Go ahead, ask one.
Sadly, most veterans today owe their military career “opportunities” to an economic draft resulting from the lip service and empty promises of unbloodied Congressional war hawks. A full-time job program, medical and educational benefits, steady salaries, all for targeting supposed insurgents or reasonable facsimiles in countries that many could not spell or find on a map before, or even after, signing up. I was there, one of them, in 1972 in Southeast Asia, but an unraveling empire in the age of endless war and COVID will be an equal employment opportunity on steroids, until the next Resistance takes notice of the true costs of war.
Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day in the US, often takes me back to a ceremony in 2003 held in honor of a local soldier killed on the last day of WWI. His granddaughter asked me to accompany her son to his gravesite at Arlington, his headstone was corrected with the proper date and the correct spelling of his name. In a remote, lonely corner of Arlington it was just the two of us. A few words, a couple of salutes, two coins left in remembrance and we were done. I'm guessing that was more ceremony than the young Texas private received in 1918.
And neither of us thanked him for his service. We knew better.
The author of this post is Gene Marx from Bellingham, Washington. Gene is a Vietnam veteran and former Naval Flight Officer with VAQ-135 aboard the USS Coral Sea in 1971-72.