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.
12 hours ago