“I’m Proud to Be an American”
Copyright 2014 by Lori-Ann Willey
Many, who have followed my Inept Blog posts for several years, know that from time to time, I will write about our Veteran’s with heartfelt emotions from deep within. Today is no exception.
Like many of you, Paul served fourteen years in the military. He medically retired in 1995. With a lot of hard work, wise spending habits, a few wise investments, and some skillful thinking, too, we make things work so we can live the lifestyle we want. Yet, so many think that a military lifestyle is “easy” money, “free” education, “free” housing, “free” living, “free” medical, etc. There is more to it than that. All of that comes with a price in other ways. Shake your head in disagreement if you wish, but if it were not for our military YOU WOULD NOT BE FREE to do the things you do, or even free to express your own thoughts, choice of jobs, foods, homes, vehicles, doctors, or even read this blog, as I would not have the freedom to write it. We owe EVERYTHING to our military. They really do deserve our thanks.
Last Easter, we had the privilege of meeting an active duty Army Captain, and a retired Army Reservist. With Paul also retired Army, they sat around the table and discussed Army ”stuff”. There, too, we met a young man who was uncertain of his career. He was 20, tall, buff, and yet appeared lanky, as his body sprang gently with each step. He had eyes that twinkled when he spoke, and had eye contact that is difficult to find in so many people of today. All combined with a beautiful loving smile, and a hug that also goes unmatched by youths of today. While there, he and I had a conversation separate from the others. During that time, he touched my heart as he told me about his job struggles to date. I smiled, and encouraged him to follow his heart and mind, and that eventually things would come together for him. Now he is 21, and today, he graduates from Army Basic Training. I could not be more proud of this young man.
At the time of Desert Storm, Paul was stationed at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts. Luckily, Paul was not deployed, but many of our friends and neighbors were. It was a scary time for our country, but on an Army Post, like any military base, we all lived the horrors 24 hours a day. I knew of one woman (our neighbor) who would not answer the phone to anyone. The husband had to call, let it ring twice, hang up, and then call back. The wife would answer the phone only if it were he on the other end. Upon his return from deployment, she changed their phone number so family could not reach them from afar. When neighbors knocked to welcome the man home, she would not allow the door to open. The man had to sneak away from her to call his own parents from work, because she did not want him to leave her sight, yet would not allow incoming or outgoing calls either. Odd, maybe. She was a very strong-willed woman, but that goes to show you the trauma our military families go through that many of you do not understand. How can one understand if not experienced firsthand, read about, or witnessed personally? This is why I am writing this today. I hope you will better understand my appreciation.
During Desert Storm, the news was on 24 hours a day. On any given day, I could literally walk the length of our housing unit and hear the news the entire way without missing a word. Yellow ribbons were on every tree, mailbox, and antenna possible. The song heard from a vehicle at any given time? “I’m Proud to Be an American” by Lee Greenwood. (http://youtu.be/xf8hfZuzw_A) Some spouses played that song for hours on end at the highest volume possible rattling the walls to the point that we felt sick to our stomachs at times. Her husband was deployed, so we cut her some slack. That was her way of coping. Kind of rude and disrespectful maybe, but still, she was under a lot of stress and stress does strange things to people without them even realizing it. She was raising three children alone. The woman beyond her, two kids, beyond her two kids, beyond her one child, and the last three kids. From the six “homes” in our building, Paul was the only service member who was not deployed!
Our housing area went from full and lively, to like a ghost town over night with the exception of countless army trucks in procession that cut through our housing unit like something out of a war movie. Ft. Devens was a hub for deployment. I was one that always went outside and gave them my full attention, as they passed not 20 yards away. That little bit of respect, appreciation, and admiration was heartfelt not only by myself, but to those soldiers who nodded as they rode past. Many of them waved in appreciation of my attention. I would always wave or nod my head, in return. Such a subtle thing as a nod has so much meaning when in need. Acknowledgement, no matter the topic, or situation is so important over silence. “Silence, like a cancer grows”
(Sounds of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel) (http://youtu.be/LK-WzXUJFCo This is a song about materialism, apathy and greed in society. About man's inability to communicate with his fellow man. It illustrates people's tendency to be apathetic towards each other,...communication is all too often only on a very superficial level. No one dares to reach out to anyone else, so they draw within themselves and hopes that no one disturbs their sounds of silence. )
How many of those soldiers would return? A community of strangers pulled together, babysat for each other, picking up groceries, mowed each other’s lawns, helped shovel after snowstorms, went to doctors appointments together, and even attended births while the father was overseas dodging bullets and missiles. Paul became an “accountant” for many who did not know how to keep tally of their money, etc. Such things as these go unknown. I was nine months pregnant with Josh and I was push mowing the lawns of our entire building. That is what it means to come together. I babysat during the day for months on end for a family of four children so the mom, who was a civilian nurse, could continue to work and not lose her job. No, I was not paid, or was paid very little when I was. Payment or lack of payment was not the point. I worked nights on top of that at another job. That is what people do.
The sadness on the faces of spouses that were “left behind” as the sole parent for months and months on end, their tears not only seen, but heard, too, their kids becoming “Army Brats”, because the moms not only felt bad for themselves, but for their kids, too, so they allowed them a little more slack/freedom. Kids did not understand why they were crying; they cried because mommy was crying. How can that not mess up a child in some way? How can a parent prevent that “Army Brat” from developing under such situations? They did not know war or what it meant to be in a warzone. How many of those kids heard what Paul and I heard so many days and nights, their mommy crying while doing housework or crying herself to sleep? Army families became very close. There are some today, that we consider family, because during that time, we became each other’s family by not much choice. We laughed, we cried, and we disagreed, but we still had love for each other, and each will always be welcome in our home. Empathy has such great rewards IF one allows himself to stop, and think outside themselves occasionally.
Now, let us flip that around and think of the spouse in deployment. They are alone, too. They, too, have to depend upon strangers, not only as soldiers in a time of life and death situation, but also as a “neighbor”. Their spouses at least could go home to family, or had children, and jobs to help make life a bit easier, but our soldiers have none of that. They lean on each other. They have to trust each other. It truly is, “You have my back, I have yours” type of living. High school friends of mine came back from Desert Storm. We were in contact before their arrival. I got a list of their favorites foods, went to the Commissary, and when they were due to arrive at our door, Paul and I had a huge meal waiting for them. They even brought a friend. Paul and I provided them with their first home cooked meal in countless months. A meal that was not cold. A meal that did not come from a pouch. A meal where they sat in a chair and at a table instead of the depths and darkness of a foxhole with missiles flying overhead never knowing when one would hit them. It was an honor, a sense of pride, great respect, and love for my long time friends, as well as for the stranger who was with them.
After or before our meal, we sat and talked. The horror on their faces, and their voices were and still are indescribable for me. Neither their smiles, nor laughs, were the same as before. Their emotions depleted internally. Their minds preoccupied. Despite their safeness on American soil and in the home of friends, they were still living those horrors. How could they not?
Please do not dismiss any military member for their services to this country. Smile at that spouse who often single-handedly raises their children alone during long stretches of deployment, who not only have to be the mother and father, but also work so very hard to keep their child’s father in the minds and hearts of their young child. I know of one AMAZING woman who mastered that technique! She is the wife of the Captain mentioned above. All while in constant worry of the safety of her deployed husband. She always makes me smile. It is not easy living a military lifestyle, and at times, it is downright hard for different reasons. Do not dismiss it as an “easy” life or getting things for “free” as mentioned above. Such things are mere trade-offs, if you will, and it is not nearly enough in comparison.
You may not like how the government is run, but do not take it out on our service members. Instead, offer them your hand, and thank them for serving and protecting our country. Do what we do, send a Care Package, too.
To read about the gut-wrenching conversation of our friends after Desert Storm, feel free to read the follow blog entry.