Late night email retrospective on Veterans Day
to me 2:26 PM (9 hours ago)
Wow, Gene, did you know this about Jason? So sad.
Sent: Thursday, November 11, 2021 8:01 AM
Subject: What my father lost in the war
Dianne -- It was May 1972. My dad was serving in the U.S. Air Force as a navigator on a cargo plane in Southeast Asia. They made regular runs to deliver supplies for troops serving on the front lines in Vietnam.
He wrote a letter home to his mother, admitting his deep frustration with the war. “We have no idea why we are here,” he admitted. “Everyone is just trying to survive and get home to our families.”
He missed his family -- especially his wife and young daughter, my older sister.
“I’m looking forward to being home and seeing my family again,” he wrote.
He had no idea that my sister had drowned in the family pool less than two weeks before he wrote the letter.
More than 30 years later he admitted to me that he’d never forgiven himself for not being there to save my sister. It was a wound that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices we impose on our service members, and the heavy price that often comes with those sacrifices.
No amount of “Thank you for your service” was ever going to heal the wounds my father carried from his time in Vietnam, or from what he lost while he was away.
I’ve rarely told this story. But those scars my dad carried for the rest of his days left a mark on me as well. It’s a big part of the reason I became an anti-war activist...I think about my dad, and the nearly 20 million veterans living in the U.S. today. I think about the wounds that never heal, and the promises our nation made but never kept.
Many young, underserved youth join the service on the promise of a free college education, medical care for life, and a long, rewarding career.
But reality is a pale shadow of that promise.
Only a fraction of those who served ever take advantage of their free college education. The VA is consistently underfunded. Veterans in rural areas have difficulty accessing services. Claiming disability benefits is a complicated process. And for those still serving, there is always the looming spectre of the next war...
to Dianne 10:09 PM (1 hour ago)
Most combat vets are damaged goods, Dianne. We all carry scars for participating in that invasion, myself included. Like Jason's dad, I didn't have a clue why I was there, and certainly not buying LBJ's Domino Theory of "containment". In short order I knew we weren’t the "good guys" in Vietnam, even sharing this "revelation" with our squadron XO during my annual performance evaluation.
My own life-altering moment came in March of 1972 during a return to the aircraft carrier after a strike over Haiphong. A SAM missile narrowly missed my aircraft, after we took an evasive maneuver from which we shouldn't have been able to recover. It was a double dose of terror.
Three days later I listened to a cassette from Victoria, telling me that my best childhood friend died from a similar missile attack over the Ho Chi Min trail - on the same night, the same hour - on his last scheduled deployment sortie. I had just mailed her a cassette, wishing I could be with everyone, celebrating with our gang, at what was sure to be a raucous welcome home party for our friend. It was devastating.
I have never observed or celebrated Veterans Day since, or any other such militaristic observance serving as a commercial distraction from remembrance, and worse, an obvious recruitment opportunity for future wars and countless victims. I never fought for anyone's freedom, for crissake, or ever acknowledge "Thank you for your service." I now respond with "I didn't serve...I was used." Much more civil than "You've gotta be shitting me...I was a mindless tool of the Empire."
And I feel so sorry for Jason's dad.
*Jason is a former public school math teacher and lifelong progressive activist who grew up in Washington state, and he's running for Congress.