I hope that Tech Sgt. Phyllis Hanson will forgive me for borrowing her headline. Her article republished at Air Force Link and available at Free Republic struck a chord. When she added the word "sale" to the end of Veterans Day in her search window, three million ads popped up on her computer screen heralding, "Veterans Day sale! Veteran's Day sale!" She scolds us that the sales only "discount" the purpose of this honorable holiday, “I fear the meaning behind Veterans Day and other holidays honoring people who have served our country seem to be going by the wayside so retailers can use these sacred days for their no-substance super sales to clear out overly inflated "holiday" inventory to make room for the next "holiday" sale. Is no holiday sacred anymore? Is it just a day off to shop?” I’m here to say that no, Veterans Day is not just a great day to shop for a sale because it's too cold for a picnic.
Some Veterans Days, I’m okay. They are the ones where focusing on the positive feeling that comes from giving veterans the respect and gratitude they deserve. It allows me to feel that I can pay the dues of honoring memory and sacrifice, and go on to enjoy the day's activities of preparing for the evening dinner where we have warm fellowship and good food. Where we take notice of who can still fit in their uniforms and hear someone tell what it was like for their slice of war. Last year it was amazing search and rescue tales from Vietnam and how it took the synergy of seven different aircraft, including civilian ones, to bring off rescues of downed aircraft crews. One lucky airman was shot down in enemy territory, crashed, rescued by one of those Jolly Green Giants of a whirlybird only to survive getting shot down in the helicopter and rescued yet again. The USAF said that surviving getting shot out of the skies twice in one day was enough and sent him home.
Once again we are at war. We’re losing good people. Our returning veterans, whether career military or Guard/Reserve, are suffering wounds both physical and psychological. Their families are under enormous emotional and financial stress. Mary Edwards Wertsch on her Military Brat blog wrote last Memorial Day about her reaction to The Soul of War which was broadcast on the American Public Media program called Speaking of Faith. “ This year, it was rebroadcast on Sunday morning, and I listened again, printed out the transcript to study. Chaplain John Morris, the guest interviewed by host Krista Tippett, has served in Iraq and continues to work with National Guard and Reservist veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point in this rich discussion, he spoke of the importance of rituals that can help both returning warriors and the communities to which they return." She quotes from the transcript:
Maj. Morris: ...we don’t have a lot of rituals, and we need one for this…. In Medieval days, in some parts of Europe, the priest would go with the soldiers, raised from the villages to go fight, and you know, hear their confession prior to going to battle, give them last rites, and send them to war. So that’s a very stark psychology. ‘Hey, you may die, so we need to make things right with God.’ Then when they came home, they were stopped before they entered the village. Stripped off their clothes that they had fought in, bathed, heard confession again, celebrated the Eucharist, and then allowed back in the village. Now, what were they saying there? ‘You know, there needs to be some business done with God and with the community prior to allowing you to rejoin us. We need to leave the old out here.’
It’s easy to see how the truth of the military as a root culture is overlooked in our society. As cultures go, it is truly out of the ordinary: No hometown squares. No defining race or faith. No tongue of its own, well maybe Acronyminism. It is a culture that by and large is carried by the Invisible Tribe of its children and not by their parents, the vast majority who grew up with roots in Blueberry America. These parents are influenced by the military, but their heritage arises elsewhere. Most observe their time in the military as a significant but transitory chapter in their life.
For the Invisible Tribe, it is different. We leave the Fortress but the Fortress remains forever a part of us. Wertsch writes, “Because of the extreme mobility of military life, and because none of the adults know to cultivate an understanding of how the children are shaped by the Fortress, children grow up blind to their cultural roots. This is a tragedy. The fact of the matter is that the only way we can change what needs to be changed in ourselves is by bringing it to the conscious level, and the only way we can value what should be valued is by bringing it to the conscious level. “
Tonight I will go to the Veterans Day dinner at the church where I taught for several years. I will see our veteran’s memorabilia; go over old pictures and letters. It will give me a quiet time of unvoiced memories. This is not an effortless or outward practice. I will feel the swell of pride in service given, the open appreciation for the understanding and capability that service mandates, the trepidation of bravery overcoming fear. And it will be intermixed with very personal and particular memories of longing, of loss, of disappointment, of fear, of rage, of sorrow for what should have been and could not be. In that sense, all of us from military families pay the high price demanded by the Fortress. Tonight I will honor the providers for the Invisible Tribe, congratulate the ones that can still fit in their uniforms and admire them all for sacrifices they made for me. I will know that whenever they were face down in the dirt when they had incoming, that I was one of those many grinning and goofy-faced kids they gazed upon in a crinkled and careworn photo. The one they tucked away somewhere in a helmet or the pocket of a uniform. I will understand how it got them through those times. Veterans Day is a meaningful day for the Invisible Tribe, meaningfully observed. For us, honoring those who served is not optional. It is natural. It is meaningful. It is deeply a part of who we are.