The veteran’s burden of thanks

Light. It’s a light burden, really–letting someone thank you. Any objection starts and stops at the fact that a ‘thank you’ is meant with good intentions. You shut up and thank them right back.

But for many, it’s often still there–that lingering unease at being celebrated.

There have been dozens of articles written, songs penned and YouTube videos produced on the “Don’t call me a hero” vibe from veterans.

Some veterans want others included like firemen and police officers, teachers and other public servants.

Some veterans perhaps are refusing out of a sense of false modesty. “No no, I could never accept this honor…Well, okay, if you insist!”

Some veterans realize that, while a noble act, uniformed service shouldn’t bring an expectation of being worshiped.

Some veterans try and educate the public on the difference between–say, me (a POG-ass leg print journalist in Iraq)–and a Medal of Honor recipient, in regards to the ‘hero’ label.

Some veterans take advantage of the celebrations. They flash their status and expect free first class plane tickets. The worst (or their spouses or well-meaning patriots) inadvertently push for societal changes toward a warrior-caste system, where veterans get most things for free. To them, life for vets should be rent free, with free cars and health care and free college education because they “fought for your freedoms.”

Some veterans don’t talk about their service much. For them, it’s like being someone who really isn’t in to birthdays. Sure enough, someone will find out and make a big deal about it, and they have to go along with it or look like an ungrateful jerk.

And just like birthday people who can’t fathom how people might not be into birthdays, some wonder why vets might not want to talk about their service. It could be a bunch of reasons.

For all but the most psychotic, war isn’t fun. There are surges of excitement that we cling to and talk about–those “What a rush!” moments that are romanticized in every action movie ever made. But war is hell. War destroys. War is brutal. War is destruction.

Some veterans feel guilty. The richest nation bombs poor nations and calls it ‘defense.’ They are torn between their spiritual or moral convictions, seeing the day-to-day anguish of the brutalized civilians and the giddiness of the American public for having done it.

Some veterans are angry. They have lost friends–best friends, loved ones–and every “thank you for your service” immediately takes them back to that ambush or long tension of despair.

And at the same time, veterans don’t want to be handled with kid gloves. No, we’re not all about to collapse from depression. No, we’re not all on the ragged edge of violence because of PTSD.

And again at the same time, there is indeed a veteran homelessness problem. There is a veteran unemployment problem. There are the normal maladjustment periods when returning home. There are tons of divorces. There are too many suicides. There are issues that are overlooked.

There is also the comparison to the WWII and Vietnam generation. WWII vets grew up in the Depression, fought a war, came home and built America. Vietnam vets were shunned and left to suffer alone. But they didn’t cry about it, right? Not like these mewing, whining Facebook attention-seeking sycophants these days who have the GI Bill, parades and Budweiser Super-Bowl commercials dedicated to them, right? There’s an idea that any public discussion of any burdens is a sign of weakness. “Others before you did just fine. What’s your problem?”

For me, keeping all of these facets in mind is what is draining. There is a pride that goes along with the repercussions of service, but veterans are people–not demigods. Veterans’ reactions to complicated situations are varied and complicated.

There is no question that we should honor people who fight for ideals of justice and freedom. The majority of those who join up do so for noble reasons, and fight alongside their brothers and sisters in arms with valor. It is above and beyond what most do.

So, again, it’s a light burden, really–the cacophony of thank yous, the free meals, the discounts and the handshakes. All of the swirling behind-the-scene drama can be put away, because the co-worker or the parent or the teacher who says “thank you” just means it as that.


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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