“Happy Veterans Day” the bright eyed young woman at the check out stand says. She sees my US Navy emblem on my hat. I am not sure why I wore the hat today except maybe out of a self indulgent need to show that I am a veteran. I am incredibly proud of my service in the US Navy. I served from the end of the Viet Nam War until almost the mid nineties. I am sure along the way there were some sacrifices I can claim, but nothing like the men and women who preceded me. Truthfully, other than the insane hours and long periods underwater, I think I was pretty lucky.
So why would I start with such a bummer of a title on a day meant to honor people who have by and large been the ones given the most to preserve freedom? Shame seems like such a harsh indictment and how is it possible to say anything is a “National” this or that?
I like a parade as much as the next person. I love the flags and polished uniforms of the people who carry them up front. What I don’t like is the unpleasant reminder that other than the larger debts that have been incurred, there are debts that have a much longer consequence.
23% of the homeless population are veterans
33% of the male homeless population are veterans
47% served Vietnam-era
17% served post-Vietnam
15% served pre-Vietnam
67% served three or more years
33% were stationed in war zone
25% have used VA homeless services
85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans
89% received an honorable discharge
79% reside in central cities
16% reside in suburban areas
5% reside in rural areas
76% experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems
46% are white males, compared to 34% of non-veterans
46% are age 45 or older, compared to 20% non-veterans
Service needs cited include:
45% need help finding a job
37% need help finding housing
NSHAPC reports at www.huduser.org.
In May 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a special report on incarcerated veterans. The following are highlights of the report, “Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 2004,” which assessed data based on personal interviews conducted in 2004:
Numbers and profiles
- There were an estimated 140,000 veterans held in state and federal prisons. State prisons held 127,500 of these veterans, and federal prisons held 12,500.
- Male veterans were half as likely as other men to be held in prison (630 prisoners per 100,000 veterans, compared to 1,390 prisoners per 100,000 non-veteran U.S. residents). This gap had been increasing since the 1980s.
- Veterans in both state and federal prison were almost exclusively male (99 percent).
- The median age (45) of veterans in state prison was 12 years older than that of non-veterans (33). Non-veteran inmates (55 percent) were nearly four times more likely than veterans (14 percent) to be under the age of 35.
- Veterans were much better educated than other prisoners. Nearly all veterans in state prison (91 percent) reported at least a high school diploma or GED, while an estimated 40 percent of non-veterans lacked either.
- The U.S. Army accounted for 46 percent of veterans living in the United States but 56 percent of veterans in state prison.
- In 2004, the percentage of state prisoners who reported prior military service in the U.S. Armed Forces (10 percent) was half of the level reported in 1986 (20 percent).
- Most state prison veterans (54 percent) reported service during a wartime era, while 20 percent saw combat duty. In federal prison two-thirds of veterans had served during wartime, and a quarter had seen combat.
- Six in 10 incarcerated veterans received an honorable discharge.
From a report in May 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics special report on incarcerated veterans. “Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 2004,”
We count on people to do the unpleasant things in life in order to preserve our freedom’s and liberty.
It has always been that way. The academics want time to think about things and seek wisdom about how we can all exist on this tumultuous planet. The religious want times to pray about things and seek God’s discernment and not soil their hands in the blood of the sacrifices of brutal battle . The sunshine patriots want time to gin up the courage to live up to their convictions. The Fathers who never served wants to live life in the basking glow of final glory – where the payment of blood, usually on a faithful comrade’s part that is played out while they hold his head in their lap, results in an unlikely and stunning victory. The Mothers just want their sons and daughters back in one piece.
The service man just wants to survive. On a good day he want’s the guy next to him to survive too. Now that we have produced so many broken men and women, what are we willing to do to help them? How do we help them deal with the pain of seeing body parts mangled and all kinds of unimaginable horrors that result from man’s unbelievable capacity to create destruction? Can you even stand to watch the images shown on History Channel and the other networks that routinely show the grotesque images that result from war?
I feel guilty every time I see a homeless person. I feel guilty because sometimes I think I should have been one of the ones who put everything on the line for their country. I feel guilty because the one time I was in Viet Nam was in March of 1975 on my way to Thailand for a few weeks of forgetting about all that I had thought about before. I feel guilty that I never served under fire. I will live with that until the day I die.
In Britain and so many other places this day is called Remembrance Day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_Day
We used to call it Armistice Day until a few decades ago when Congress tried to make it one of those famous three day weekends. I really wish we would rename it in some way to remember the original name and purpose. Maybe then it wouldn’t be so easy to walk by the men and women in tattered clothes whose dreams are filled with the nightmares of war. Remembrance Day has been set aside to remember the futility of war. I couldn’t agree more.
God Bless all of you who have given so much of your life to the preservation of freedom. God Bless all of you who still live with the demons of alcoholism, drugs, depression, despondency and on and on. I pray for you today that your future will be wrapped up in the peace that comes from understanding that this was not your fault. You followed your duty as best you knew it. We as a nation are grateful that you bore the cost for us. As the scripture says “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I salute you on this Veteran’s Day. I will remember your sacrifice for the rest of my life.
By the way… it’s still okay to thank the Vets you meet. Maybe just take a few moments more to think about the actual cost they paid.
I’m not a real hero hero, I’m just an old man
trying to get by the best that I can.
My clothes are real shabby, my walk is so slow
but there once was a time, that was not long ago.
I stood at attention with my friends in the sun,
Our uniforms sharpened, our training was done.
We flew to a country, with rifles in hand.
We had no idea it was such a hard land.
We lost our dear brothers , we lost our close friends.
We crawled into bunkers, and prayed for an end.
Now fifty years later we struggle ahead.
While fighting the battles still stuck in our heads……
Why do you fear me? while you walk quickly by
I only need food so I won’t fall and die.
The home that I dream of beyond the next hill
can you help me to get there?
I pray that you will…
I love America. But I just need a place to sleep tonight. I am so tired,,, can you hear me now???
2 thoughts on “Our National Shame… oops sorry, I meant to say “Happy Veteran’s Day””
Mac, Very well said.
My guilt is that I grew up wanting the air force more than anything, taking care of my parents trumped the dream shortly after Vietnam. Well, I can honor them all, and do. My feelings are much the same as yours although at least you got to put in the time.
Bravo Zulu Mac, another fine piece.