My father held the precarious position of being proud for his service in three wars, and being profoundly disturbed by, and suspicious of, war as a tool. He was not the only veteran who expressed concern to me about the misuse of the military, or the growing use of force to maintain a vast colonial enterprise. Certainly, by the end of his service in Vietnam he no longer believed in just wars, or in the moral stance of the U.S. government, and his doubts would continue to grow, as did his pride in his service.
I often wonder whether being Native influenced his thinking. Certainly he had few compunctions about serving in World War Two, or the Korean Conflict. He firmly believed in their moral footings. In Vietnam, he lived and worked among the Vietnamese people, forming deep and abiding friendships with them. I believe, from his few remarks about those experiences, that he questioned the American role in the conflict, then felt profound grief and horror when the U.S. abruptly withdrew, leaving his friends to an unknown, but likely terrible, fate.
My father was hardly the only warrior on his side of our family. I had cousins and uncles who served as well. There was an agreement between them: they held tight to the warriors creed, rising to the defense of country and community when needed. They were all good, if wounded men, carrying the suffering that arises from doing and seeing the unthinkable.
Over the years I have known many veterans. Each carried scars, injuries all to often ignored or ridiculed by a culture that glorifies war and marginalizes those who must fight it. Now that our wars are waged by a tiny percentage of the population, the warriors among us have become largely invisible. No wonder they sometimes refer to themselves as ghosts. Ceremony helps, yet deep ceremony is largely absent from our culture, and the lives of our warriors.
As we remember those who fought, let us also remember that war is indeed Hell, and that returning from Hell can be a lonely experience, fraught with opportunities for the loss of connection, belonging, and meaning. Today, and every day, may we reach out to our warriors with the honoring and appreciation they so deserve.