The Veteran

Published 3:21 pm Friday, May 28, 2010

To live in the United States is a blessing beyond measure. Who gave us this blessing?

The founding fathers risked their lives (and many later lost everything, including their lives!) to put down on paper the ideals that produced our nation. Even they were a vocal minority in a growing country made up of people who had never had it so good in spite of the hardships they faced in taming a wilderness. The politicians could declare independence, but they had to get enough ordinary people excited about it to achieve it.

The men who answered the call to arms and the women who supported them won the freedoms we enjoy today. Their successors have continued the fight when necessary, and it is these people we now call veterans that we celebrate and salute because we appreciate what they have done for us.

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My family has answered the call many times during my lifetime. Uncle Ethan, brother Bill and cousins Earl and Tommy were Marines; uncle Wallace, brother-in-law Terry, and cousin Linwood served in the Navy; father Garland Sr., father-in-law Bob and brother-in-law Mitch served in the Army; cousin Bryant flew B-29s for the Army and later B-36s for the Air Force, and my son Thomas, cousin Douglas and I served in the Air Force. We are thankful that all survived their wars and came home to enjoy the way of life they helped to preserve for us.

My first war was World War II. Everyone I have talked to remembers exactly where they were when they heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Our country was struggling to come out of the Great Depression while the war clouds gathered in Europe and the Far East. Many hoped to avoid involvement overseas and our leaders had difficulty getting any preparations started for defending ourselves. Pearl Harbor united us and mobilized us to become involved in preserving our country from all enemies.

WWII was the last war that the whole country was committed to winning. Production of consumer goods was halted as the nation geared for total war. We had price controls and rationing. We made do with what we had and everything was recycled. It seemed that every family sent someone to war or to the defense plants. We barely won that one, but we accepted the unconditional surrender of the Axis nations, then set about rebuilding their countries as well as ours.

Many people who have dedicated their lives to defending our country have been called upon many times since then to go to war. The rest of the people were allowed to continue life as usual in a country devoted to prosperity and living the good life. For the veteran, this new kind of warfare is something like going out into a fierce thunderstorm to get more wood for the fireplace, then coming back inside to find that the family enjoying the cozy warmth did not even realize that he had gone out, let alone thank him for it.

Some have called these unpopular wars. Some have resisted every war ever fought. But would we be an independent nation if we had not fought England? Would we still be one nation if we had not had the Civil War? Would we still be speaking English if we had not won both WWI and WWII? They were not popular either, but most have conceded that they were necessary.

The people who train hard to defend our country are too often put in harms way for questionable reasons, in my opinion. But as the old salts used to say, Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die. They go where they are sent and do what they are told. Because of them, we do not have to do that.

The politicians are quick to send our troops to battle drug lords, warlords, dictators, whatever. Would that they would be as quick to pass bills that would lift the troops pay above qualifying for food stamps, build and staff enough VA hospitals to treat their war-related ills, and elevate their status to at least valued citizen. The way disabled vets have to struggle just to live suggests to me that the ones resting under the rows of white crosses are the lucky ones.

We remember them on Memorial Day, but what about the ones who survived minus important body parts and with permanent mental and physical disabilities? I think we should remember them, too, by including their timely care and postwar rehabilitation in the high cost of making war. Since we acknowledge our great debt to the veterans, why dont we give them their due? Maybe its because they dont send us a bill.

This is one of the essays in Garlands newest book, The Prime Time. It was first published in July 2004; some veterans benefits have been improved since then. I also added cousins Tommy and Douglas to this copy.