There are veterans and then there are veterans. Without diminishing anyone's military service to our country, especially on this Veteran's Day, I want to talk to just a few of our veterans. Those I'm reaching out to constitute approximately eight or nine percent of one percent of our population: One percent of us are in the military. It takes about sixteen military personnel to support each person (the eight or nine percent of the one percent) "on the line" with a gun. The rest of you go sit in the shade and watch the parade go by.
All right, troops, now listen up! You're not alone! Write that down and memorize it. Never forget it. Late at night when you're awake staring at the ceiling and those memories won't leave know there are others, just like you. We all have those times when we wonder how things came to be and why it was you and/or me that were there. Why did it happen? What might I have done or not done. Why was that? How did it come about? God, how can you let these things happen? And there's no answer. Its black dark and you're all alone. There's nothing there but the condemnation of silence.
You look at the folks around you. There's no one, no one to talk to, no one who'd understand. There's no one who could understand. That may be why the suicide rate is so high among us. All that religious teaching and momma telling you to be good and daddy telling you to stand up "like a man" and then you got into that . . . you had to . . . it was either that or . . . The rucksack gets pretty heavy. The road seems all up hill. There's no end to it and you're all alone. Stop right there. You're not alone.
Even with just the eight percent of the one percent of the ninety nine percent, those people are there. They've walked the walk. They've stared at the ceiling in the dark and wondered. Those few are out there. They're reaching out to one other. They've been there. They're helping one another to survive, to find a way through the discouraging bureaucratic jungle designed, it seems, to avoid, evade and reject you at every turn. All that puts a fella in mind of Kipling's poem about the British GI, "Tommy:" "Oh its Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy, how's your soul? But it's savior of his country when the drums begin to roll." Keep your cool. Together we can all make it work.
The hardest part is locating a group. You've got to ask around, feel your way. Never mind the blow-hard at the bar telling everyone how tough it was. He's a "wannabe." If he'd of been there, he wouldn't want to be a wannabe. The guys you're looking for don't advertise, probably for the same reason you don't tell your momma what you had to do, but it's worth searching them out. They'll help you carry that rucksack you just can't seem to put down. You're not alone.
Maybe I should try to state my questionable qualifications for membership in the group: I was in the Air Force, a pilot, flying, well, flying anything they didn't keep me out of. Flying fighters over Southeast Asia I tried to teach "the other guys" the truth of that old adage that says "tracer bullets work both ways." I too had friends with that "fifty mission stare," friends who had seen "too many too close for too long." Flyers don't often get to see what we've done but, in our hearts, we knew. I'm reaching out too. You're not alone.
Back to you "feather-merchants" at the parade, if any of you have read this far. You all, on Veterans Day, may have some recognition that Freedom is not Free. Fortunately you'll never know how much it really costs. Our flag in the parade is a symbol. It's a symbol of what has been bought and paid for over and over again. In recognition of that fact and of these few men and women who continue to make payments, those folk's I'm reaching out to, when the flag goes by the rest of you get up off your well upholstered butts. Place your hand over your heart, and thank those few who are still toting a heavy rucksack and will be for the rest of their lives.
Editors note: Ben Mukkala is a local author whose several books on life and living are available in bookstores and gift shops or through his website, www.benmukkala.com. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.