Sunday, November 8, 2015

Honoring Our Veterans

I could talk about upcoming books and all that, but November 11 is Veterans Day. This week, I'm dedicating this blog page to honoring those who serve and have served our country. In my lifetime and being a post-WWII baby, I've known us to be involved in some way with a war in Korea, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq....and probably, in some way, in other wars around the world. War has remained distant, taking place on other shores, but has always been a fact in my lifetime. Always at a distance, until 9/11 when the horror of war was brought to our shores. I've had relatives and friends who served in many ways in the armed forces during war, both in active combat and here at home. I have friends whose names are etched in the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial. It was humbling to visit that wall and run my fingers over those names, realizing what those young, young men gave up for the freedom and security I enjoy.

I always knew my father, Dale R. Rettstatt, Jr., as a soldier. He served in WWII, bringing home with him two Purple Hearts and the remains of shrapnel in the back of his neck and head that gave him excruciating headaches at times. I looked at a picture of him as a young boy whose dream was to become a draftsman. (I still have a set of steel drawing instruments he used). And then I recall the man I knew, and I'm certain he brought back more than physical wounds. No one goes through a war unscathed. And, yet, he remained an active member of the Army Reserve until his death (which came early at fifty-nine.)

I often wondered what happened to that hopeful, smiling boy in the picture. Not that my dad didn't have a great smile and quick wit at times, but there was often something haunting in his eyes, too. Sobering. He never became a draftsman and I wonder if that dream died in the trenches of France.

I have such empathy for those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and for their families because they will forever be haunted by the horrors of war, even if they don't bear physical wounds. We need to take care of our returning heroes--and that's what they are. One definition I found of a hero is:  a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. "a war hero". All wounds are not visible and we owe these men and women our support.

This Veterans Day, let's pause to remember all of those men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom and our dedication to freedom for all people. Regardless of what you personally believe about war. Thank those Veterans who are still with us. Demand our government to take responsibility for the care of those who have returned from war, wounded and shattered and in need. Let's also make a promise to never stop trying to find a better way to bring about peace and preserve human dignity. This is what I learned from my father, a man who (I believe) was forever changed by his experience of war.