Veterans, Share Your Stories on Medium
The Medium Writing Prompt

No. You won’t understand and you’re the poorer for it.

The invitation from Medium made me angry and I had to sit for a while and think about it.

Veterans, share your stories on Medium.

Well, right there it started. The comma made the invitation look more like a directive. Then I read on. The next were statements not questions.

What it was like when you first came home.

What you’re doing today.

What civilians will simply never understand.

What happened on your alive day.

No questions just directives as though whoever wrote the invitation had to write something and threw those four things out because they seemed, well, almost caring.

Then I began to get it. The person asking was someone with a prurient interest in what being a soldier was really like. Before, during and after getting shot at, I guessed.

For me in my war I didn’t have to serve at all. No guilt implied because in those days the war took you whether you wanted to serve or not. It was called “The Draft” and everyone (theoretically) was likely to be “called up” to “serve” and the war du jour was in a place called Vietnam.

I was exempt. First as a student, then as a teacher of economically and socially disadvantaged children in the inner city. After two years it occurred to me that some of my eighth grade students who would be old enough that next year would be “drafted”. They would become some of those in rice paddies in a place they didn’t know existed getting shot at by people they had no reason to be mad at and getting killed for no particularly good reason.

So when my student deferments ended, I refused my occupational deferment and volunteered. After training, I volunteered again for Vietnam, leaving wife and baby daughter behind for that while.

Oh, but my life as a soldier is not of interest to the editor of this article. Only my life as a veteran.

Well, my life as a veteran was like a lot of others. Looking back now with the help of some therapy I know I suffered some of the same kinds of…let’s just call it, aftershocks that so many suffer. I call mine aftershocks because it’s too late to call them anything else.

Today the wars du jour are being fought by “Tha Troops”. Those are faceless volunteers who are motivated by a lot of things, including patriotism. “Tha Troops”. Most of us don’t know who they really are because they are not our brothers, daughters, sons, grandsons or granddaughters. Just “Tha Troops.” Just those who volunteered.

I understand them and commiserate for I was a volunteer. I feel their aloneness and pain from knowing as the invitation for this article said: We civilians will simply never understand.

One more thing you civilians will never understand and which should forever haunt you is that you never had the opportunity of serving anything larger than yourself. You didn’t have to, so you didn’t. I don’t believe that every citizen should march down some dusty, far-off street or hide behind some barren copse of boulders while some local citizen shoots at him or her. But I do believe that every civilian should make a formal, dedicated contribution in service to the nation that gave them the opportunity of NOT serving at all.

Then you as a civilian would understand and be the better for it.


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