Today is Veterans Day in America. I wondered this morning what percentage of the U. S. population actually have served in the military, whether in combat or peacetime. Google that and you will get many different answers from various sources (depending upon the date of the information) that average out at about 7% of the population. Less than 1 % of the current American population is currently on active duty somewhere in the world.
I’ve posted here before that I served in the Army in both the Middle East (Iran) and Viet Nam. In normal (non-COVID) years, I march in the Memorial Day Parade. That parade, like all other big events was cancelled this year. The Memorial Day parade organizers arrange groups by the wars in which they fought. The lead group, which has diminished greatly over the last few year is the WWII group, followed by the Korean War Group. Our Viet Nam War group is the third group and usually the largest group. The various Middle Eastern and Gulf Wars groups follow us with a small group for the Invasion of Granada in between.
The Memorial Day Parade is Milford’s biggest parade, both in terms of the length and number of participants in the parade and the number of people who turn out to see the parade. People literally line the parade route from the VFW Hall on W. Commerce Rd all the way through the downtown to Central Park. The crowd of several thousand is usually several people deep. It is heartwarming to hear the constant applause of the crowd and the shouts of “thank you for your service”. We in the Viet Nam contingent did not get that type of welcome when we returned home back then.
I saw a story on last night’s news on NBC about a 99-year-old WWII vet who is still jumping out of airplanes. He was a paratrooper in WWII. They had an interview with him as part of the story and one thing that he said really rang true – He said “We don’t talk about it.” Most vets don’t talk about it because it is a very personal thing and some have more of a problem with it than others. More veterans probably died from abuse of alcohol or drugs and suicide after they got home than were killed in actual combat. It can be that big of a thing.
The impact of the intense experiences of combat is something that has only recently been understood and given a name – PTSD. We used to call it being shell-shocked or experiencing “the fog of war”. We are currently seeing a similar stress related syndrome in our frontline healthcare workers and they fight the war against COVID-19. Like soldiers in combat, they are experiencing day after day of intense emotional response to the events that are happening around them. We have already seen stories of doctors and nurses committing suicide or having to walk away from their jobs because of the traumatic stress of watching patients in their care die.
So, today – Veterans Day – say “thanks for your service” to a veteran that you might know. I’d say to give them a hug, too; but our current situation dictates against that. And, if you know a doctor or nurse who is on the frontlines in the war against the Corona Virus pandemic, say thank you to them, too. The most helpful thing that you may be able do for people in ether group may be to give them a shoulder to cry on and a sympatric ear for their stories.
Let’s all make it a great Veterans Day.