Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day Part II

There is a story I want to tell that has always, for me, summed up the reality of what it is to be a veteran, the reality that most of us don't hear.

I was an Optometrist (before health issues forced me into early retirement) for many years. I was also the third generation in my family in Optometry and I practiced with my father until his death in the early 80s.

My Dad served in World War II in the Army. He spent his wartime at a remote small base in Greenland where they did weather forecasts for the naval convoys crossing the Atlantic and also supplied some of the information for the D-Day landings.

In November of 1994 I had a routine office visit with a 70 year old patient who had been with Dad from the time he opened his office- he was a high school classmate of Dad's. We chatted, as we always did, about how my kids were and what was new with him. He started to tell me about his visit to Normandy the previous June for the 50th anniversary of D-Day; he had landed at Omaha Beach in the first wave. He told me of seeing men he'd known 50 years before and of visiting the cemeteries there.

Then he began to cry. He told me that although he and Dad had been friends for years "I have always been jealous of your father because he never had to kill anyone".

My heart broke at that moment. In that one sentence he had summed up all the suffering, pain, trauma and regret that millions of men have had to live with all their lives. We take young boys, train them to be killers, and when their service is done they are sent back to live "normal" lives. In that moment I understood why all my uncles who had seen combat never told "war stories".

Everytime I remember that story I think of all the wonderful men I have known who were not blessed, as my father was, and who did, indeed, "have to kill people". I think of how they adjusted, raised families, were kind and loving husbands and fathers, and were good men in whatever they chose to do after their service.

My father and my uncles served, my brother and my cousins and my friends served and now my children's friends and my former students are serving. Thank you to them and to all who do now or ever have worn the uniform.


Etha said...

Great story! I think there is a very BIG difference today: today, you have a CHOICE. It is your choice to join the army with all that this could possibly mean. Back then, there was no choice....
My dad was one of the lucky ones as well, I don't think he ever *had* to kill anyone, he was in prison in france and had a reasonably good time. It did take hime some 40 years though to learn that you don't HAVE to eat all the food that is available.... very long time.
Again, TODAY it is about choices. You don't HAVE to join the army, meaning you'll never HAVE to be in the situation to kill anyone. There are lots of other ways to contribute to the well_being of this country.
stepping down now ;)

Diane said...

WOW! Really powerful video and story! Love the card that you did to honor this holiday. Thanks to the heroes!!!

Blessings, Diane

Cel said...

So, just think...your dad probably did the weather reports my dad talked about - the reports that either said to fly or not to fly. Wow. Sure miss him.....

Shirley said...

A wonderful and so appropriate story. Thank you for sharing what so many do not think of because it hasn't touched their families. As a retired Social Worker, who has worked with those veterans who were not able to recover from the stress of duty and war, I hold every military person in a speical place in my soul. Bless you for so elegantly and truthfully telling how it is for our people who serve.