We Are Veterans

I remember a quote from a book or was it from a movie? Anyway, a captain on a ship that delivered troops into combat said, “where did we get these men who willingly sacrifice their lives on the battlefield?”

Way back during the American revolution, people might ask that same question. Men facing death going face to face with the enemy only twenty or fifty feet from each other. Some lived, some died. The survivors were classified as veterans of the revolution and recognized as such. They went on to raise families in a new nation and create what we have now. 

In 1812, we fought the British again and even while their armies were here burning the White House and fighting in New Orleans, the war had been over because we had signed a peace treaty with England. We didn’t get the word until way after Americans had died. Those that lived have become veterans of that war.

American have fought the Indian wars, the Spanish American war and the 1st and 2nd World War. Throughout those war, Americans suffered. Not only did they suffered the ravages of war but what it cost them in limbs lost, mental and physical grief from seeing what men could do to men during combat.

In the front lines of combat, men get used to getting shot at and adapt to their surroundings. However, those men in the rear echelon who support the troops even in their supposed comfort zone were inflicted by sabotage, infiltration of enemy personnel to assassinate or by artillery fire. In the battle of the bulge, my uncle Ismael was a baker who was taken out of the kitchen and became a rifleman. He was wounded and suffered for his wounds throughout his lifetime.

In a different battlefield, the sea, Navy men were subject to instantaneous death by other ships, submarine torpedoes and also airplanes. It only took one bomb to obliterate a ship with all its cargo and sailors. Those that survived were either blown into the sea or escaped by abandoning the ship.

In Korea, US Army soldiers and Marines suffered the ill effects of the peninsula with its tall hills, cold weather, sickness from the diseases brought on by vermin. Those who survived that conflict remember the weather more than the combat. In the air, the US Air Force was pounding the enemy in their entrenched positions. Sometimes they got shot down and captured. There were no partisan’s units or friendly villagers to help them. They were on their own. They became POWs and were not released until after the armistice. Some never came back.

During the Vietnam war, men were exposed to a different type of combat. There was no front. Everywhere you were in was a combat zone, even in a base camp you were subjected to rocket fire, Viet Cong infiltration, mortar fire and snipers. You were never safe. Some of those who came back incurred mental illness by witnessing various atrocities committed by the enemy. Even some of us were forever damaged by our own government when they were using Agent Orange for defoliation against the enemy. 

Come to the present where our troops are engaged in a desert war against an unseen or undefined enemy where religion is in the forefront of this conflict. Our troops have sustained more mutilation of limbs due to IEDs. Living in a desert environment is difficult. You have the enemy to contend with who may pop up at any time and the weather. Hot during the day and cold at night.

All these wars and conflicts have many things in common. Regardless of the constant battles, each of us have gone through a myriad of suffering – lack of food, lack of sleep, when to rest and recuperate, looking after each other. At that crucial time, we were not patriots, we were survivors. And today, we are the walking wounded in spirit because we didn’t die with our comrades.


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