April 10, 1995. I boarded a plane from Lansing, MI to San Diego, CA, and sat in the USO of the airport dreading the next three months. It was a decision that I had made, but the prospects of what awaited me didn’t mean I had to like it. A bus pulled up and Marine Corps Drill Instructor, complete with Smokey Bear and black leather belt strode into the USO and began demanding that we board the bus immediately. As if in comic relief Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey was screaming at the boots in Full Metal Jacket. Three months later I graduated as a US Marine.
I state this, on the 240th Birthday of the Marine Corps, to give you a sense of who I am, where I’ve come from. I spent the next 19 years, 2 months and 26 days in the military. On the eve of Veteran’s Day I can say without a doubt, and from what my DD214 says, that I am a veteran.
What I want to say has to do with something very small, very trivial to many folks. Veteran’s Day comes and goes each year. It’s filled with discounts and freebies for veterans and active duty servicemembers. And a lot of the time… that’s it. Sure people share some patriotic posts on Facebook and Twitter. They share old stories with comrades, and family & friends thank their veteran loved ones. There’s no problem with this. It simply is.
The reason I write this, is to point out something to those who have never served. I can’t claim anything heroic in my years of service. I, thankfully, had a very quiet enlistment, save for an F-18 crashing 20 feet from me on the JFK, and one crazy 36 hour period on the George Washington in 2008 when our ship caught fire. I was never in a fire-fight, I didn’t see combat, but I knew people who had. I lost friends, good friends to training accidents, suicide and combat.
Every Veteran’s Day I look at the lists of discounts and freebies that get emailed out by well-meaning people. I have people who know that I am a veteran stop me and thank me for my service. Every year my mind goes to those we lost. The ones who won’t come back. In psychology it’s something called Survivor’s Guilt. Those of us who survived, who made it back, who ended our service and stepped back into the civilian world, look at the sacrifices that our friends, our comrades, our brothers and sisters made, and do not feel as if we deserve anything, when they sacrificed it all.
This is why I don’t participate in Veteran’s Day. I don’t say this to say that there is anything wrong with how our society goes about thanking veterans. I simply to say it to point out that some of walked out with a great deal of loss, and we feel guilty that we survived it. So when you see a veteran, thank them, but remember too their standing before you is because other’s gave or lost their lives, and those losses leave scars.