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Not a Hero

November 11th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

2012-01-28 19.21.21

I volunteered to the Navy to avoid the draft. That turned out to be a good strategy because I got my draft notice while I was in boot camp. I served in the Mediterranean in a gunboat squadron, then on a submarine rescue ship, and finally served as an instructor for aircraft carrier electrical systems at Lakehurst, New Jersey. I made friendships I’ll never forget. Now as I grow older I remember those days with great fondness, forgetting, as we do, all of the almost unbearable BS that goes with serving in the military. I learned some of the greatest lessons of my life: how to keep myself and my stuff squared away, how to show up on time (a lesson a lot of people today could stand to learn), how to be responsible for both my triumphs and my mistakes, how to show proper respect, how to sacrifice for the common good, how to cooperate with people you don’t like, how to remain loyal to your comrades, how to drink and cuss like, well, a sailor. I do not regret one second of the time I spent in the Navy.

I was in the military during a time when those who served were not celebrated, often vilified. It wasn’t hip to say “thank you for your service.” Military folks and veterans were not thought of or referred to as “heroes.” And that’s ok because very few of us, then or now, were or are heroes. Absolutely nothing I did in the military, other than putting my life on the line by being in the military, was heroic. I never thought of myself as a hero. Most of what people do in the military is tedious and boring and a lot of it is just plain stupid. There are times when some are thrown into situations of extreme crisis, where some reveal their true character to consist of a great love for their fellows and their country. They are the heroes. But that wasn’t me. In other circumstances, perhaps. But at this point we’ll probably never know.

Today we are celebrating Veterans Day. Veterans Day honors all who served. Today’s veterans are all volunteers. More than we would like to acknowledge are coming back broken from hellish situations. They need care, they need jobs and opportunities, and most of all they need to be welcomed back into society. It is not patriotic to honor the theoretical hero with parades and careless words of false gratitude while the real veteran sleeps on the street or constantly wrestles with private nightmares and can’t get any relief. It does not honor those who served that we sit idly by while 25 times more veterans die of suicide than combat.

We as a society need to stop celebrating war. Few who have ever been in war think it’s a very good idea. In the Vietnam era we let our distaste for war turn into cursing the veteran, to our shame. We must not now allow the opposite shame of letting our media driven celebration of “heroes” make us forget the horrific cost of war. Working for peace is harder than sliding into war. But if we love our kids, if we really want to honor veterans, it is an effort worth making.

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