Veterans come in all shapes, sizes and ages

“Everyone calls the fellows who fought in WWII ‘The Best Generation’, but all those who fought in the wars after that were the best of their generation.”

                                                                                                                Vietnam War Veteran

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I don’t know the name of the man who said that but he is featured on the History Channel’s special about the Vietnam War.  This is what inspired me to blog this today.  It actually started as a Facebook Post or Tweet but sometimes I just have more to say than the word limit on Twitter. 

I was 2 years old at the “end” of the Vietnam War.  I remember when my sister was in high school she used to wear straps of leather that she tied into bracelets in honor and remembrance of POW’s. And other than what I briefly learned in History at school I really didn’t know much about it other than the Hollywood movie version through movies like Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and First Blood.  But one thing that always bothered me was the way Vietnam War soldiers were treated when they returned.  Many of them had been drafted and didn’t have a choice but to serve, others served proudly feeling they were truly going to make a difference in a country many of them had never heard of and all of them saw and experienced the absolute horrors of war.  And when they returned to this country emotionally broken and defeated they weren’t welcomed home – they were spat at and subjected to horrific name calling by individuals who thought their belief in anti-war politics superseded human empathy. 

And while I am proud that even those individuals who oppose today’s fights in the Middle East choose to aim their disdain at political leaders while still supporting the troops who are fighting, I have a story to tell.

A while back there was a call into the 911 center where I work by an older gentleman who wanted to report a suspicious vehicle.  I say ‘older’ because I use my age as my reference point – older means he is somewhere over 55.  His complaint was that there was a young man, maybe 25 or so driving a car with a Disabled American Veteran plate.  Well because he was 25 this man thought he surely had stolen the car.  Really?  I hadn’t talked to him but this was what had popped up on my screen to send out to the police over the radio.  Again…. Really?  I wanted to call this ‘older’ man back and ask him if his head was permanently lodged in his ass or was it just a thing that was going on today.  In case anyone else in the world reading this blog doesn’t know….. YES THERE ARE DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS WHO ARE 25 YEARS OLD.  They have suffered limb loss and severe burns and gunshot wounds as a result of Improvised Explosive Devices and firefights with the Taliban and other radical groups in the Middle East.  And those are the lucky ones who have survived attacks; there are 6750 US service men and women who have died since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.  Most of them from the Army most of them aged 20-24 and most killed during a hostile action (Washington Post http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/).

I hope this Veterans Day the ‘older’ gentleman who thinks he knows everything about everything takes time to appreciate our Veteran’s both young and old.  I hope he has come to the realization that the 25-year-old driving that car was probably a war veteran.  I hope he doesn’t see my 29-year-old nephew driving his car with his Marine Veteran license plate and question his authenticity as a veteran too.  Much like the 20 year olds who went to Vietnam 45 years ago and returned veterans there are now 20 year olds returning from Afghanistan and Iraq as war veterans.  Two years ago at my son’s Veteran’s Day program my nephew was the youngest veteran there.

I wonder about that ‘older’ guy.  Wonder if he was ever in the military.  I wonder if he – based on the age range I guess him at – was one of the men who served in Vietnam or if he was one of the people calling the returning troops names and spitting.  My guess would be the latter.

So this Veteran’s Day I hope everyone takes time to recognize all Veterans – young and old.  Say thank you even if you don’t know exactly what you are thanking them for.  And if you don’t know what you’re thanking them for let me tell you – FREEDOM.  They are the ones who have defended this country and protected our rights for years and will continue to do so for years to come.  For the dwindling numbers of WWII veterans to the Korean War veterans to the Vietnam Veterans to the Operation Desert Storm Veterans and the Veterans and active military personnel in Operation Enduring Freedom – I say thank you – you are the best of your generation.

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