In December of last year (2014), I published “The Dark Saloon, Bar and Grill,” ten days before Christmas Eve. The “Holiday Season” is, quite often, a very dark time for our veterans, and when I penned that piece, I did so in the hopes of reaching a fellow Veteran who was in “a very dark place” at that time.
Yesterday was Veterans Day, the unofficial beginning of “the Holiday Season” for us Veterans. When I penned “The Dark Saloon, Bar and Grill,” the accepted number of Veterans who chose “…the large caliber lunch” was twenty-one (21) each day. This morning, a certain Republican Presidential Candidate stated that the current number is twenty-two (22) Veterans who choose “…the large caliber lunch” each day. A small up-tick in statistics, to be sure.
An “up-tick”? Yes…to most people, it is nothing more than that – a statistical data point.
From Veterans Day, we move quickly into Thanksgiving, and then right into Christmas and New Year’s. And each one of these holidays drives many vets deeper into that “Dark Saloon, Bar and Grill.” And as we veterans of my era continue to age along with the rest of our country, the journey into the darkness accelerates.
And the doorway into that dark place looks very much like “Veterans Day.”
Earlier this month, I posted an article stating “We Are No Heroes.” The feedback that I received was of universal support from Veterans, to include a longtime friend and former boss of mine who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH). And the most rewarding feedback I received was from LIZZIE, a mother who unknowingly supported my position by emphasizing the all too rare relationship between fathers and sons.
As I stated in “We Are No Heroes”:
We Vietnam Veterans have long remained the forgotten and shunned by America from the beginning of the end of that conflict until more recent times.
That is life.
Although it feels like yesterday, I returned from my second combat tour in Vietnam forty-five years ago. I have done well by the grace of God, support of a fantastic wife, and plain and simple pig-headed determination; no formal education beyond high school, no help from my government or anyone else. But far too many of my fellow veterans have not done as well, and, at this stage in our lives, we do not expect things to change dramatically.
Veterans Day opens that inviting door into The Dark Saloon, Bar and Grill. But that was yesterday, and today the world moves on, leaving our veterans where they were before we chose to place them on a pedestal for that one day.
We veterans DO appreciate being recognized for our service to our country. And, based on all the feedback I received on the subject, we are universally uncomfortable with being called “Heroes.”
But how do we barricade that inviting doorway to The Dark Saloon, Bar and Grill?
There are many, many well intentioned organizations that reach out to our Veterans. And, sadly, far too many of our Veterans view such well-intentioned organizations as “charity”; something to be avoided, even at the cost of one’s life.
But a casual invitation to go to lunch for special occasions… like: Today is Tuesday, or the sun is shining, or the weather is miserable – will do much to blockade that door to “The Dark Saloon, Bar and Grill.” Not just on Veterans Day and not just once a year, but throughout the year.
Veterans Day shines the light on that dark doorway, but it need not be that way.
We veterans do not ask for your “understanding” because, by the grace of God, there is no way you can possibly understand our demons and deep depressions and anguish and anger over the way our government continues to treat us. We do not ask for your “sympathy” or your “charity,” no matter how well intentioned.
And, although we have never asked for all those “Thank you for your service” comments, each and every instance does more good than you can imagine. And a lunch or dinner once or twice a month, at home or eating out, where sports or weather or anything but our service to country is discussed provides the veteran with a sense of belonging to community and lends structure and a sense of inclusion.
Many Veterans have no close family ties. Speaking from personal experience, we managed to destroy them shortly after our return from the battlefields. Many Veterans do have families, and, as one of my sons pointed out, those family members, too, are “Vietnam Veterans,” having fought the battles with the demons that many of us brought home with us.
And those Veterans’ families may find themselves as equally isolated from the rest of the world as is the Veterans in their families. Those families need as much or more support as do our Veterans.
Veterans Day opened the door to that Dark Saloon, Bar and Grill. We The People have what is needed to barricade that door and keep our veterans in the light of day and in the warmth of our friendship; not just on “Veterans Day” but every day of the year.
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