Memorial Day 2013

27May13

According to the current media fad, we veterans are PTSD-stricken rapists on the verge of suicide. This is a major downturn in our status, as just a few weeks ago we were merely PTSD-stricken and suicidal. I guess those were the golden days.

Every time I turn around, I’m slapped in the face by stories about PTSD, suicide, or military sexual assaults. Not long ago I mentioned to a civilian that I had been in Iraq. He looked concerned and asked, “Are you okay?”, as if being a veteran automatically means I’m a basket case. It doesn’t. In fact, I and the vast majority of vets I know are doing quite well.

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t seem to notice the huge number of veterans they see living normal lives. And nobody pays attention to the Army’s statistics showing that the vast majority of suicides are Soldiers who never deployed. The public isn’t listening to the female Marine captain in the Judge Advocate General office who points out the extraordinary leaps required to extrapolate 26,000 sexual assaults from a flawed survey (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323582904578484941173658754.html [“The Pentagon’s Bad Math on Sexual Assaults”]). No, it’s much easier to just consider us an army of psychologically damaged sexual deviants.

The supposed cause of this damage is our experience in combat. I wasn’t aware until I came home from Afghanistan that simply being in combat destroys one’s soul. But, what do I know? All I did was serve in combat. I didn’t study it in a classroom, or something serious like that.

I get the impression that the public holds a mental “PTSD stamp”. Whenever they meet a veteran of the War on Terror, the stamp comes down. “Oh, you served in the war? Thunk! Uh-huh. PTSD.”

I hate to contradict the media narrative, but it certainly seems to me that most veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are living normal lives. God forbid I shatter the cherished beliefs of anyone who hasn’t served, but gosh darn it, I just don’t feel like the war screwed me up. And I wish people would stop assuming my wartime service makes me tainted meat.

So I’m going to make a statement. Even though this will likely raise a few eyebrows, I’m going to say it anyway. Because it’s true.

I liked being in combat. No, I loved it. I went on every mission hoping for a firefight. I volunteered for dangerous missions I didn’t have to go on. I was disappointed when we didn’t get into a contact. It’s not an exaggeration to say I have never been more satisfied in a job than I was as a Soldier in combat.

That doesn’t mean I was the best Soldier in the world; I wasn’t. I don’t claim I was great at being in combat, I just loved it. I also know that I have the luxury of having enjoyed combat, because all of mine was at a distance. The men who cleared houses in Fallujah probably feel different about combat than I do. Some veterans undoubtedly hated being shot at. But when I think back to the fights I was in, I don’t shudder in fear. I smile in satisfaction. I cherish the memory.

No, that doesn’t make me psychologically damaged. It means I discovered what other men have discovered throughout thousands of years of history. I learned that combat is exhilarating, challenging, intense, the realm of men whose dedication to their cause and comrades would make any Fortune 500 CEO look lazy by comparison. In battle I found a sense of meaning that would have made my death, should it have occurred, worth it.

This discovery didn’t damage me. It enlivened me. It gave additional purpose to a life I thought was purpose-filled already. And every brush with death highlighted the importance of my wife and children, made me appreciate everything waiting for me back home.

Yes, I had terrible days in the wars. I have changed in significant ways since I was called up the first time in 2004. To say I’m not the same person I was before I deployed wouldn’t be accurate, but differences are there. War leaves a mark on everyone who truly experiences it. For some people, that mark is permanent, disfiguring and life-changing. For others it’s a temporary redness, no more severe than the sting of a slap on bare skin. I think most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum; not crippled but not untouched, slightly marked but happy to carry on normal life.

I’d like to remind America that we grew up surrounded by veterans of terrible combat in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Most of those men, who lived through the horrors of such battles as Tarawa, the Chosin Reservoir or Operation Junction City, were as much a part of our communities as any lifelong civilian. I grew up across the street from a World War II veteran and two Vietnam veterans. For many years, both my next door neighbors were Vietnam vets. Almost all my great uncles had served in World War II or Korea. What stood out about almost all these men was their utter normality. That normality is also evident in the vast majority of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I like to think those we lost, had they survived, wouldn’t have been considered somehow lesser for their service. In Afghanistan, the casualty that affected me most was of a man I never met. He was a Marine Corps pilot serving on the ground as a forward observer, a Naval Academy graduate who had been married less than a month earlier and died a hero’s death only seventeen days after arriving in Afghanistan. If he had survived his deployment, he could only have gone on to be a dedicated husband, father, leader and citizen.

Today isn’t a day to cry over pitiful victims whose deaths in combat saved them from being emotional cripples. Today is that Marine pilot’s day. It’s a day to honor men and women who so loved their country and comrades, they sacrificed their own full and bright futures in order to defend ours. They literally gave their lives for us.

On this Memorial Day 2013, I’d like to ask anyone reading this to keep something in mind: we veterans of the War on Terror weren’t forced into anything. We volunteered for combat service which in many ways made us better people. We aren’t, in general, suffering in silence and desperate for a way to stop the emotional agony. We’re not on the verge of suicide. And we damn sure aren’t sexual predators.

So please, stop with the pity. Stop walking on eggshells around us. Stop thinking war crushed the life out of us. It didn’t. It made many of us better citizens. Better Americans.

Happy Memorial Day to my military brothers and sisters, to all those who have lost loved ones in our nation’s service, and most of all to those men who died bravely on our shared fields of battle.

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23 Responses to “Memorial Day 2013”

  1. 1 Eowyn

    On behalf of my husband, thank you.

  2. 3 Fritz

    Amen!

  3. 5 Aesop

    The overwhelming number of civilian-identified “PTSD” sufferers are drug addicts, alcoholics, and psych patients (or all of the above) stealing valor for sympathy, never having served a day, on top of their other meritorious and noteworthy social conduct.

    The one time Hollywod nailed the typical “veteran” was Eddie Murphy’s character at the beginning of “Trading Places”, Special Agent Orange.

    Your experience of combat is by fa the norm; experiencing PTSD is the exception. But drawing their cue from the perenially wandering children of the 1960s, spitting on veterans, either for real, or just mentally, is the default setting for too many in society, particularly those who would control the public perception of reality.

    And anyways, today is for the fallen.
    Which, to date, carries a 0.00% risk of PTSD.

    • 6 Les

      Quite a few of the children of the sixties were the veterans of the Vietnam era. Some (mostly very late sixties and early seventies) were the puppets of the left, but by no means even close to most of them.

    • Many of us vets are torn on the PTSD issue. On one hand, I know vets who legitimately suffer from PTSD. On the other hand, we all know of numerous pathetic losers who falsely claim PTSD to get money, sympathy and attention. I’ve had two significant close calls with this type of shithead. One served 2 years stateside in the 60’s and claims he’s a former POW and MOH winner, the other told police departments he was an SF combat veteran Silver Star winner despite the fact that he served peacetime as an MP.

      I don’t want to dismiss real vets who deserve help, and I hate every last one of those disgusting pieces of shit who use the accomplishments and trauma of others to fuel their own fantasies.

  4. 8 Les

    Just the usual left wing politics. During the Vietnam war a Democrat Congressman wanted all returning veterans to have to be put in a camp upon return to ensure the public’s safety. After all, they knew how to shoot!

    All the men on the street I grew up on were veterans of WWII. My dad at age 17 was in the Solomons in the Naval Amphibious Corps. He was in the Solomons, Gilberts, Philipines and getting ready for the invasion of Japan. The neighbor behind us was a PT boat skipper. Another neighbor survived the Bataan Death march and Japanese prisoner of war camps. Our pharmacist was a Corpsman on Guadacanal, he and Dad remembered seeing some of the same things from different angles. Another friend of Dad’s was infantry in Patton’s 3rd army, and was in on the relief of Bastogne.
    All were good, competent people, and nobody made the kind of comments made now until later in the Vietnam War.

    Dad said there was a closeness among people in combat together that no one who had not experienced it could understand.

    One of my daughters worked for JAG for a while on the sex crimes. She said many of the charges were absolutely bogus.

    Best wishes.

    • Les,

      Thanks for that. I think we need reminders about how well integrated most vets have historically been in American society. Spread the word, we need to hear voices like yours instead of just the words of media personalities who usually have zero connection to or understanding of our military.

  5. My husband volunteered and proudly fought in combat, (101st airborne, infantry.) As far as I know as his wife, he had elements of combat he did in fact like, but many more he of course did not. He also never did well living as a civilian again, attempted suicide twice, couldn’t cope in public, and changed as a person. The service to his country did make him a great American, but not until after he found help to begin rehabilitation and treatment for PTSD and TBI.
    A lot of what the media is saying needs to be said too…
    People don’t understand.

    • Also, most of today isn’t so much happy as it is remembering his brothers he lost amd others throughout our history.

    • Amber,

      Many vets suffered horrible trauma and need help. We fail as a nation if we ignore the needs of those who defended us. However, most of us are doing well, and anyone who puts all veterans in the same “PTSD basket” only makes it harder for the men and women who legitimately need assistance to get that assistance. All the furor over the VA backlog is caused, in part, by veterans who really don’t need help asking for it anyway, because it’s being handed out like candy.

      PTSD is, in my opinion, being way overdiagnosed. At first it was underdiagnosed, and it seems that the VA swung back the other way to ensure nobody was ignored. But now veterans can walk into a VA counselor’s office, tell the counselor they never experienced combat, never saw a casualty, never heard a shot fired, never were in danger other than from poorly-aimed rockets that never landed anywhere near them, don’t have nightmares or any other symptoms of PTSD, yet still bet assessed 30% disability for PTSD. No joke, that exact situation happened with a veteran I know very well.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, and Happy Memorial Day to you and your husband.

  6. 14 MACV S-2

    Someone described “WAR” as the most seductive of all mistresses; I know I was a better soldier in RVN than in the States and a better citizen for having volunteered.

    • MACV,

      I’d bet that a lot of good soldiers overseas absolutely suck in garrison. When I was in Iraq our Sergeant Major addressed that by asking, “You know the myth of the soldier who’s no good in the rear, and only good in the field? That’s nonsense.” To which an old NCO behind me whispered, “Bullshit.”

      Happy Memorial Day and thank you for your service, MACV.

      • 16 MACV S-2

        PLEASE, just do not walk too close when you’re carrying that radio!
        Welcome Home Brother.

  7. Just a side note: When I am reminded about rape in the US armed forces, it is usually by… *drumroll*… the official US Army twitter account (twitter.com/USArmy). Really. They seem so busy reminding everyone that they are working hard to prevent rapes that one cannot help but believe it to be a huge issue.

    As for veterans and inevitable PTSD: I’m from Germany. Not growing up around WW2 veterans was impossible. The majority seemed like normal people to me. *shrug*

    • Tierlieb,

      The Army cannot and should not blow off the sexual assault problem. If even one sexual assault occurs in the military per year, it’s a major issue. However, the fact that the Army is publicly addressing it doesn’t necessarily means it’s the gigantic dragon being portrayed by the media.

      Regarding your other observation, I’m not surprised that even veterans of the dreaded Wehrmacht, for the most part, lived normal lives after the war. It’s good to hear that soldiers all over the world are usually resilient after experiencing combat.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your perspective.

  8. 19 JimP

    The “Journalists” in the MSM bag on the Soldier because they need to rationalize their choice not to serve ……. not everybody can hack it …… they could or would not, so they make themselves feel better by denigrating those who chose to serve.

    Cowards. If they have were not there, they need to STHU and STFD.

    If I want a “Journalist’s” thoughts on anything .mil related, I’ll read Mike Yon.

    • Jim,

      Sometimes I think I should become a journalist. Just so there will be someone in the media who can speak with credibility about military issues. Unfortunately, no news channels are beating down my door to hire me.

  9. Reblogged this on Disgruntled Veterans and commented:
    The current administration would like nothing more than to block access to firearms to military veterans in particular. The strategy is simple – tuck returning combat vets into the mental health issue category (due to documented PTSD) and block the whole lot of them from obtaining firearms. For the current administration, returning combat veterans are particularly troubling. Why? Because if enough people find that the government has finally crossed too far over the line, combat veterans are the least likely to cower from their duty to protect the Constitution.

  10. 22 Les

    The more I have watched the narrative play out, the more I see it as spitting, and throwing red substances on returning soldiers, while chanting various slogans. The military, by and large is deeply respected by the general populace, the rest of the federal government is not. So, once again, the military is the target.

    • Fortunately, we’re only the target of a small number of people. The ones who bother me aren’t the ones who are outright hostile, it’s the ones who think they’re supporting us and then talk about us as if we’re victimized children.


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