Not All Wounds Are Visible, And Some Return But Never Make It Back

Memorial Day 2011

I do not know the source of the following quote, but it has a profound effect on me whenever I ponder it – “Only one bullet, one mortar, or one roadside bomb separates Veteran’s Day from Memorial Day.”   I’d like to bend your thinking about these two days a little.  On Veteran’s Day, we celebrate those who have served on our behalf, on Memorial Day we commemorate those who served and gave their lives.

I have the distinct honor and privilege of having served 7 years in the U.S. Army Reserve so far.  I have completed two tours in the sandbox as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and later Operation New Dawn.  This Memorial Day I will be toasting those I have known who sacrificed all in the Global War on Terror.  I think especially of SGT Kruize, who we lost in Baghdad on Easter Day in 2010 due to non-combat injuries.  I think of the 5 Soldiers in the Humvee I saw destroyed in front of my eyes.  I think of the fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who will be absent from the dinner table this Memorial Day.  While much of the country kicks off the beginning of summer with BBQs and picnics, days at the lake and a three or four day weekend, many of us find ourselves caught in a vortex of emotion that is at its most intense on this, one of the most sacred days of our year.

There is a line in the narration that accompanies Queensryche’s “If I were King”.  The Marine telling of his experience states that even if he were to live the most perfect life and do as much good as possible, he still wonders if it would make up for the guilt of what he had to do for his country and for … making it back alive.

Post traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt, the inhumanity of decisions and actions – both direct and indirect – that ended the existence of another human being.  Nightmares, flashbacks, jumpiness, sleep disorders, moodiness, irritability, fatigue.  Broken bones, missing limbs, respiratory illness, headaches, seizures, personality changes.   Failed marriages, disconnection from children, parents, siblings and friends, the loss of the joy of life.  Deep inside, a loneliness that cannot be expressed, because making the decisions they made, righteous though they may have been, caused a disconnect from the society of humanity.

If you know a Veteran, especially one that has been directly exposed to combat, they probably experience or have experienced some of those things listed above.  Some wounds are grotesque and horrifying to the sight, some wounds are not visible at all.  Soldiers are tough, it is part of the job description, and because of who they are and what they stand for, they will hide their infirmities as well as they are able.  As we think of those who did not return from war, also think of those who returned but may never truly make it back.

Memorial Day is a sacred day.  For those of us who breathe the beautiful and precious air of freedom, we owe a debt we cannot repay.  Let us never forget the sacrifices made for US.  Do not allow the day to be one of sadness, rather one where we revel in the freedom and joy that has been bought – just do not ever forget the price that was willingly paid.

Please consider supporting worthy organizations such as these–

– Help Veterans recover in countless ways
http://soldiersangels.org – Let those still serving know you are here for them
http://www.militaryfamily.org – National Military Family Association , supporting Veterans, their families and their survivors
http://fallenheroesfund.org – Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund

Most of all, exercise your freedom.  Be active in politics, so that the Nation that they fought and died for remains free and true to the Constitution they swore to defend.  As we consider the Presidential campaigns beginning to take shape, remember that the primary responsibility of the person holding that office is to be Commander-in-Chief of tomorrow’s Veterans – and tomorrow’s fallen Soldiers.