This past weekend we celebrated Veterans Day in the “land that I love.” I am not sure why, but my thoughts during this year’s celebration were different than the last. I was more affected by my thoughts about veterans and their families. My thoughts were about the parents of soldiers. I think parents of soldiers in some different way experience their own form of “PTS”, though varied in degree.
In 2001 my son joined the army. He was 20 years old at the time and there was no war. His mother and I had discussed with him what he wanted for his future and after going to college for a brief period he decided that the military was the best option for him to take. He wanted to pursue law enforcement and the military would provide both education and experience simultaneously. He joined and was accepted into the military police and would be sent to Fort Leonard Wood for Basic Training, then stationed at Fort Lewis. As a family we thought he was on his way to a great career. Like all of us in the U.S. at the time, we had no idea what was next.
In September of 2001 I was at a gas station fueling my trucks for the day when I noticed people around me acting a little different. The first tower had been hit. I finished fueling and sent the crew on its way and went home to watch the news to see what was happening. What I saw was tragic, but it did not give rise to thoughts that we had been attacked. No one was sure what had happened. Then, as my wife and I were watching the report we saw the second plane go into the second tower. We were at war! My son had just gotten out of basic training and had moved to Fort Lewis from Fort Leonard Wood two weeks previously. He was no longer in the military to train for a job when he gets out. In fact, his experiences over the next 5 years would remove his desire for a career in law enforcement altogether. That day in September his mom and I had no idea what would come next.
We got our first call. We were happy to hear his words because he was going to stay in the U.S. for his first assignment. He was going to the east coast to help provide security at an important installation on the east coast. What a relief! He did his time there and went back to Fort Lewis.
Then came the second call. “Mom and Dad, I am going to Iraq for a year.” Too soon, he deployed. We were not a military family so we had neither experience nor understanding of military life. We were clueless. Every day for the next 12 months we watched every news report we could. Morning, noon, and night our focus was on Iraq. We watched as reporters talked about injured and killed soldiers. We listened for hints about what was next. We knew what our son’s job was and were generally aware of where he would be or of that which he may be a part. But, most terrifying of all was going to bed a night to go to sleep knowing that when we got up in the morning he may be dead or injured. We turned on the news first thing so we could hear the reports.
It is horrible to feel relief that your child is alive and uninjured and to watch and hear of the soldiers and parents who are not experiencing the same. Our child is alive, theirs is dead. Our child is not wounded, yet theirs is missing arms, legs and so much worse. As parents this created such conflict in us. We were so relieved and yet their lives would never be the same. This went on for 12 months. When he came home we celebrated; when they came home their families cried and mourned. We could be thankful to God, while others were asking God, “Why?” We cannot pretend to relate to or understand what these families are experiencing today. Did their child also go into the military for an education he or she would use after 4 years or service? Now that child is gone due to war.
My son did a second one-year tour in Iraq, so his mother and I lived through it again. While he was safe, he was not the same person he was five years earlier. Time and experience had changed him. We live with those changes every day. But, he is alive and safe without injury.
I admire all the parents who have gone through the same. I will never trivialize the loss any parent is feeling do to the death or injuries that have changed their life forever. It is no small thing. “Thank you for your service,” will never be a slogan I will use without thought. When you see soldiers with their parents, be sure to tell them. For all the soldiers without parents, thank you.
To those who make the decision for us to go to war, be sure to make that decision for our freedom and national safety only. No person should die or be injured for a corporation or government. Only for our freedom and safety should any American experience such suffering and loss. We Americans are willing to give up our life for our freedom, our family, and our friends, so please be mindful and careful that you not ask or require us to sacrifice for any other reason.
My thoughts are with you moms and dads this Veterans Day.