Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Veterans deserve more from me

A letter to myself; you can read over my shoulder if you want:

Despite my objections to the wars the United States have fought the last
20+ years (which these 'toons elucidate), I support the warriors who
have gone in my stead. I just haven't done nearly enough to show for it.
Really, what the hell is the matter with us?

If we are truly a county worthy of our many and sundry ideals, we'd focus our collective will on two matters:

[1] The education of our children, who would advance those ideals and solve dire world problems that grow only more dire daily— as long as we see to the children's preparation.  But we risk leaving our children lacking for those tasks, or at least much less prepared than the generation sending them to school.

Seniors at a retirement development near my home made news last month by adopting a public school, harnessing their wisdom and patience to help students. It's a tremendously generous effort, and absolutely perfect, because what students need above all is mentors to accompany them on the journey of mastering concepts. It's one thing for a teacher to control the learning environment for 32-plus children, and keep them on task for most of the school day; it's something more entirely for a teacher to make sure each of those students actually learns.

The best of the best teachers master it after years of practice, and master it by overcoming students' various learning disabilities or their initial inability to speak and read English. Even the master teachers, though, welcome the help of the community to leverage the results of their enormous task.

Those seniors shouldn't be newsworthy, because their endeavor should not be rare. Every community should join them. Every business whose growth and vision depends on these children, as intelligent producers and consumers and stewards, should be in the classrooms, modeling citizenship, making sure students succeed.

But that's not what I wanted to write about, even though I know a little bit. On the eve of Veterans Day, I meant to write about something about which I know nothing:

[2] The support of our veterans.

Their sacrifice should be uppermost in our minds and in our actions every day, not just Veterans and Memorial days, not just in the wake of news of the full "battle rattle" of war.

They should go to the front of every line, get free meals at every restaurant, the best tickets to the best events, not just tomorrow but every day. They should have jobs. They should have our jobs.

Can you imagine, veterans having to struggle just to find jobs?! Veterans who have done our bidding, to have faced unimaginable, indescribable, soul-shredding horrors, and then to see our backs turned on them when they come back in the world. President Obama last week proposed credits to employers for hiring veterans with disabilities, though in fairness to employers, the credits wouldn't pay the necessary resources to hire and train new employees. Why couldn't we/shouldn't we commit so much more?

Or imagine having to fight to get fixed for what war has broken. Veterans who went in our place, so badly broken physically and psychologically, and then being put in the position of having to advocate for their care and their families' welfare. Imagine families of warriors killed in action, having to fight for benefits.

Their care should be a given, and it should be given freely and immediately and generously, with all the resources we have at hand.

Even veterans who managed by good fortune or the nature of their missions not to suffer wounds of war nonetheless have given up their civilian lives for us, and deserve our thanks and generosity for their sacrifice.

Though I hate the wars in my lifetime fought on behalf of my country, I love the warriors. Not that they would know, because as one who made the choice not to serve, not to fight, I'm a hollow fake who doesn't really know what to do or how to give thanks.

Without a wink of effort, I can rattle off at least a dozen high school classmates, including my neighbor Buddy, who joined the armed services; I know at least five officers among them. One was a college roommate. One became a school teacher and was recalled to active duty in the Marines in Iraq; he got the call-up on a Friday and was gone from the classroom by Monday, without a moment to tell his students goodbye.

In time I have come to know veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan under presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush. I met one family whose last four generations have sent soldiers to war, and who might see the current generation go. My dad was a veteran who joined the Air Force under age to get out from under his stepfather's grip; he credits his time with getting him "squared away," being accountable to his family and community.

They went in my stead, all of them, because our volunteer armed services represents such a small portion — not even 1 percent — of our population.

We are a different 99 percent; don't you think we could use our leverage to help the few who served in our armed forces?

Veterans account for only 13 percent of the total population. Factor in veterans' immediate families, that probably leaves 60 percent of Americans who have not been touched directly by sacrifice in the armed services — a silent majority who can do more for those who served.

"Thanks" seems so small and ineffectual. A friend frequently posts tributes to veterans on facebook; though I appreciate the posts and the compassion behind them, I don't acknowledge them because I don't feel I'm the right person to respond. In a stupid and weird way, I rarely give to care packages because it feels like I'm endorsing the reason warriors are there, and helping prolong their presence; in my misguided way, I think I'll hasten their return this way.

Dumb. I can do more, and should.

Parade Magazine last weekend published tips for honoring veterans — concrete, local ideas that I can do year-round. I can do more for those who went in my place.

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