Veteran’s Day is upon in a few days. I was asked earlier today to contribute something to our college’s weekly newsletter about our veteran’s club on campus. It had me thinking about what it means to serve. We put on a uniform. We sometimes go participate in armed combat. We stand ready to do violence to keep those we love safe. It is a profession, a calling, a part time job for some. It is an identity for those who have served.
Later in the day it was confirmed a Marine colleague of mine let his demons take over. He committed suicide. He just left work one day for lunch in a friend’s vehicle and that was that. The last year closer friends of his said he had turned to some drugs and had become distant. Chalk one up on the board for another dead veteran this year. This is not callous but a cold hard fact. His death had me thinking about the burden’s we carry.
This evening I was leaving my local gym when an little old lady, Carmen, stopped me. I was wearing my issued Marine Corps track suit. She politely asked if I was in the Marines and if I had served in Vietnam. This made me chuckle because I do look like I stepped out of the 1960-70s. I am an Operation Iraqi Freedom, only 33 years old. I told her as much. She apologized and proceeded to tell me about her first husband.
James Brandt was a young man in his mid 20s when he met Carmen. Carmen was 17 and had just moved to the US on a student visa from Costa Rica. James and Carmen met at a trade school in Florida. Four months after they met they were married. James was a Vietnam veteran. (Now whether James had already been to Vietnam before or had left early in the marriage it wasn’t clear to me.) Carmen said she felt immature and guilty about her behavior towards James. James had served in some unpleasant places in Vietnam. He used to cry and told Carmen about the people he had killed, the women, children and elderly. He told her of times they had “cleared” a village only to find out they were in the wrong spot. James had some heavy burdens and Carmen couldn’t take it and so she left. James succumbed to his demons and committed suicide soon after.
Here I am learning about the second suicide of a veteran, a little old lady bawling in my arms, and wondering how the hell this week is going to end emotionally. What this did was really hit home the burdens we carry. On the drive home a little poem popped into my head:
“I am a veteran, I carry a burden you can’t see, Sometimes the pain and memories pass across my eyes, sometimes the tears fall for no reason, I am a veteran.
I am a veteran, I carry my burden. I carry my brother’s, my father’s, my uncle’s, my sister’s, my mother’s, my aunt’s, my grandparents. I carry the burden of those who came before, and those who follow will carry mine.
I am a veteran, when I put on the uniform for the first time, when I spilled others blood for my cause, the burdens increased, they sit silent in the shadows watching my every move.
I am a veteran, the burdens ask not if I can carry only if there is room for one more, they take their place behind my eyes, across my shoulders, they sit on my chest as I sleep.
I am a veteran, the burdens I carry are those of unfulfilled dreams, broken promises, defeat when courage failed, sacrifices without meaning.
I am a veteran and this is my burden”
This veteran’s day, thank a veteran. Don’t walk up and say “Thank you” and shake our hands. Go home and life your life better. Give more to your community. Love your family better. Be a better person. That’s how you can thank a veteran. Show us our sacrifices, our burdens are worth it.