Veteran’s Day: It Was Our Privilege

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World War I, also known as “The Great War” and “The War to End All Wars, was neither great… nor did it end War.  It officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

I am conflicted this Veteran’s Day.  On the one hand I feel the pride of having served… of having been part of something that was bigger and better than I was, of keeping a dream alive… the America that I grew up in… that my mother and father instilled in me and my brother, the America I hope I helped instill in my son and daughter and they instilled in their children.

I’m a lucky man, I know my children did and continue to do their job for this country and for their children.  I see Vietnam Veterans treated with respect.  I see citizens thanking the military for their service.  I see the parades, the monuments.

But on the other hand, I see my country shaking itself like it did back in the 1960s.  Damn, those were terrible, scary times that I thought we had outgrown.  Sadly, we have not.  I see history, the history of my country and the history of my brothers from older times being diminished and finally ignored, discarded like a cigarette butt in a crappy rain storm in some foreign country that was trying to kill Americans.  I, for one, have lost confidence in our governing parties and the VAST majority of our elected officials.

Going back to the first hand… my brothers and sisters—alive and dead, broken and healed—we have maintained the faith.  From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli; from San Antonio De Bexar, to the Bay of Havana, to the trenches of “the War to end all Wars”, to Nancy, France, to the Chosen Reservoir, to all of the (pardon my French)… to all of the shit holes our country has asked us to serve in.  Against all of the evils our country asked us to stand up against.  In spite of all of the politicians that bought their offices and the legacy with the blood of America’s best… we have maintained the faith.  We the veterans that served… however, we served… wherever, we served… we have maintained the faith that our country was our home and was something worth fighting for, and if necessary… dying for.

I do not ask you understand that or agree with that.  Frankly it is irrelevant to me whether you do or not.  I have served with those that do.  And, “For those that will fight for it…FREEDOM …has a flavor the protected shall never know.”

I hope the worst thing a person should deal with tomorrow is their cell phone dies.  I hope the traffic jam clears in time for you to make the movie.  I’m truly sorry that your family is so screwed up that you don’t want to spend time together.  I’m sorry… Sorry that you have never known what we have known.

I’m sorry you have never spent the night in mud and bugs and darkness.  I’m sorry you never wondered, “Will I get out of this alive?” or thought, “I wish I had kissed my Dad one more time,” or “I wish I could hear my Mom’s voice right now.”

People come up and say, “Thank you for your service.”  Frankly, it bugged the hell out of me… I didn’t know how to respond.  Took me about three years to come up with a response, “It was my privilege.”

We veterans don’t want your pity, we don’t want your sympathy, we appreciate your support and thanks.  But today, this day… the day I write this… Private Beaudry Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl, lost $1,000, was dishonorably discharged and will probably get a book deal and make money as a public speaker.

I saw a quote the other day, I have no idea who said it or when or why… but it is damn sure relevant in these days, “There are two types of people in the military: administrators and operators. Administrators make themselves look busy. Operators get shit done.”

So, to all of you Administrators be safe and secure and go on with your lives and do well; but excuse me… I like the way the sun shines on the other side of the street.  Oh, to you… it is raining, it is bug infested, it is hot, it is cold, it is hard, it is dangerous… but that’s where my dad stood, my son stood and our brothers and sisters stood.  Not many can stand there, but those that have stood there and stood there with honor and pride, however broken and staggered, however homeless and drunk, however lost or high… No matter how slumped or straight we stand… no matter how fast or slow we walk now… no matter how much we laugh at ourselves and dark memories… I’ll stand with the operators who got shit done… and while we were doing it… IT WAS OUR PRIVILEGE.