Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

Thankful for Our Veterans

I’ve said before and still believe that, for the most part, holidays are annual reminders of things we should be mindful of every day. This upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is one such occasion and Veterans Day, which was a few weeks ago, is another.

I recently watched an HBO documentary called “Wartorn 1861-2010.” It’s about posttraumatic stress among people in the armed forces, particularly those who have witnessed the violence of active duty. It features firsthand accounts of veterans and their families over the years through letters and interviews, providing insight into the despair, the nightmares, the suicides, the self loathing, and the fear. The stories of young recruits coming back home after discharge scarred and changed forever, not to mention the graphic examples of some of the atrocities they witnessed, affected me quite deeply. It reminded me of someone I hadn’t thought of in a long time.

When I was growing up, there was a man in my neighborhood, I’ll call him Mr. Smith, who my mother told me was “shell shocked.” I’m not even sure what war he was in, maybe World War II, the Korean War. I don’t know. He was just the crazy guy who lived on the block–though I wouldn’t dare say that within my mom’s earshot. None of us kids on the block would ever laugh at or tease him. We just left him be as he paced the sidewalk, ranting for hours on end, seeming to reenact the same scenario over and over.

Sometimes we wouldn’t hear from him for a while but when he was active, he would bark out orders to an imaginary platoon, and he would answer himself back, all the while gesturing in what seemed like a flurry of activity. In his voice were fear, urgency, and purpose, as the “troops” he spoke for were desperately fending off an enemy attack.

Without fail, there would be the machine gun fire–

RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT!!!!

The sound of the bullets would come flying out of his mouth with the rapidity, volume, and multiple kickback of the real thing lodged in his memory.

Sometimes I would lay in bed at night and hear Mr. Smith in the middle of the street, a war zone, making a loud whistling sound that for the love of God sounded exactly like a mortar bomb making an inexorable descent from on high before landing on the ground with a loud explosion. If I didn’t know better … but no, it was just poor ol’ Mr. Smith lighting up the dark with sound.

In the documentary, it was noted that many veterans feel alone and unable to express themselves to others, even their own families. We gave Mr. Smith his space to express himself, God rest his soul. I don’t know if that is what he needed but that was all we had to give at the time.

I’m quite sure there are some things for which we can’t be thankful enough.

© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2011

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Comments on: "Thankful for Our Veterans" (34)

  1. We are so engrossed and wrapped up in our own lives that we forget the things we should be thakful for..thank you for reminding us..great post.

  2. Great story Sweepy!!! We do need to be thankful for the young people who defend us, while still questioning the need!!!

    http://jpweddingphotograpy.blogspot.com/2011/11/magnificent-mondays-musical-tour.html

    • Indeed, Jim. There are so many issues wrapped up into one with regard to the military, I think it would not serve their purposes if the general public really knew the cost of war even among those who survive active duty.

  3. I bet its strange to think back and know what you know now compared to what you knew back then. I think it’s a great story for never judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I can’t imagine what he must of been going through when he was “lighting up the dark with sound”, it’s quite sad really. Very thought provoking post but then that’s why I love being here.

    • It is strange, SJ. Everything is a matter of perspective. There are some things that seem like the end of the world at the moment that we forget about years later, then the moments that seem inconsequential that in hindsight were significant. BTW, Mrs. Smith was kind and patient, had sad eyes. ❤

  4. A touching post about the people who deserve heartfelt thanks and acceptance in society for the tough lives they lead. Sensitive and lovely post, Sweepy.

  5. people gave their lives for us and some suffer today with lasting effects and demons..I am forever grateful thank you for the reminder…As always,,,XOXOXOXO

  6. Thank you Sweepy Jean for adding your voice of empathy regarding those who have been traumatised by war. ‘Shell shock’ was also the term given in England after WW1 to those who were experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. Being thankful for their sacrifice is something we should never forget. Thanks again, Elizabeth.

  7. I have heard of soldiers suffering after war. It is really sad. It must have been so traumatic for them. Thank you for remembering them in this post of yours. A great gesture Sweepy.

    http://rimlybezbaruah.blogspot.com/2011/11/alone-no-more.html

  8. That is such a sad story 😦

    I remembered Veteran’s Day and posted a little note dedicated to the soldiers who had fought in several of our wars. But Thanksgiving is a difficult holiday for me. It’s too steeped in propaganda. In school it was all about pilgrims and Indians and happy meetings, and since then I’ve studied the tragic history of American Indians and what the U.S. has done to them. Thinking Trail of Tears right now…a good example of how NOT to treat people. So for me Thanksgiving is not a day I spend thanking people, but a day on which I remember those people who were never thanked, who were thrown from their homes, who were punished for no other reason than being different.

    Many veterans definitely fall into this category. Generally, people like to make heroes out of soldiers as a class, but as individuals many soldiers fall into the cracks of society. They come home from battle and they are different. They’re forever changed by the violence they’ve witnessed and contributed to, and most of us cannot possibly relate to that, and it’s easier to just ignore them. It’s easier to just ignore a lot of things. I don’t intend to bury my face in a turkey this Thanksgiving. It’s not enough to be thankful for the “good” things in life while ignoring all of the bad.

    • JR, I am very much in agreement. I celebrate Thanksgiving to the sense that I cook the traditional foods and gather my family together. The time off and the food available on sale at the time make it convenient to do so. But as far as the whole pilgrim stuff, I very much reject the propaganda. Besides, in this day and age, everything from October on is a set up for Christmas shopping. So much excess. “It’s not enough to be thankful for the “good” things in life while ignoring all of the bad.” Amen on that point.

  9. honor them for what they suffer for us and give them the time of day to ease their suffering. god bless them one and all. and god bless you

  10. thank you so much for the reminder! I am so very grateful, too…

    I recall being at a friends house, when I was in my teens, my very 1st visit, we were sitting at the kitchen table and my friends father comes out speaking very loudly, with a really stern voice. At first, I was startled and gave it one of those nervous laughs…my friend in a very low voices mumbles, “oh, no here it comes”. What followed freaked me out…today, makes me sad! I’m sitting there one minute on the chair and then I’m on the floor, behind a flipped over table and I hear the words “Just go with it — it will be over soon!” whispered in my ear. His father holding a “pretend” gun, shouting commands, looking out the window one minute hiding behind curtains next…and then it was over. The man sat in his chair weeping.

    Reading SJ’s comment made me think about the way I felt back then and now knowing what I know now and feeling the way I do — I sit here in my chair with tears in my eyes.

    Your words touched me and they remind me of all that I am so incredibly grateful to have in my life. Thank you

    • Wow, Amy, that is devastating. It is also hard on families and friends, I remember Mrs Smith, a petite woman, as looking like the entire world was on her shoulders. I’m sure we never knew how much she had to endure behind closed doors.

  11. Penelope J. said:

    I believe that most young people who witness the violence of active duty can’t help but return changed and may have serious mental or emotional problems as a result. Often, the true political reasons behind the fighting are not known or clear to them (WWI, Vietnam). Yet they were/are ready to sacrifice their lives, limbs, sanity, and even family to fight for their country’s cause – whatever it is. War has taken its toll on too many generations and I suppose, will continue to do so, and it always leaves terrible scars in its wake. At least, post traumatic stress is now recognized as such and treated but if not, it can lead to a string of atrocities and problems lasting well beyond war’s end.

    You gave a good example with Mr. Smith. I can relate strongly to this story. I spent my early years in post-WWII England. There were a lot of crazy “shell-shocked” men around because of a nearby veterans’ hospital, but it was the ones like my father (a WWI and WWII veteran) who returned with no outward damage, kept everything inside, and after being successful in three pre-war careers ended up doing nothing – a shell of the man he once was. My uncle, with the 101st Airborne on D-Day in Normandy and fought his way through Europe returned an alcoholic unable to hold down jobs or support his family. My stepfather, a veteran of the WW1 trenches and international spymaster/assassin in WWII who turned into a confirmed lunatic, alcoholic, drug addict, and abuser. Those are just four examples of post traumatic war stress, then add all the young people with nightmares and fears that no one except other veterans understand, and whose prospects and hopes are cut short due to overlapping war damage.

    Yes, we should salute them for their bravery for fighting for our causes but when they return to us, that is the time to show our gratitude.

    • Pennie, you are so right: what about the ones who keep it all inside? Only their families have and idea how their experiences affected them and the rest of us go on blissfully unaware. God bless the veterans in your family.

  12. Mighty fine tribute…

  13. When a young man/woman goes into a war they return changed..They become numb to the outside world as they have so much to understand and hear of the world inside them…
    More should be done for them….

  14. War is so bad. I really don’t understand the purpose of it? Thanks for reminding us to remember all those that serviced and is servicing during the holidays!!!

  15. PTSD been there, done it. Thank you for thinking about the veterans that have served for the protection of their country and people.

  16. Hey Sweepy, thanks for the tweet. I have shifted home to a new address, it’s http://www.sulekharawat.com
    Do pay a visit there.

  17. Great tribute Sweepy… Not only is it an emotional battle for many returning veterans, but there are also battles they fight health-wise. Especially the “older vets” my uncle was effected by what I remember him calling “agent orange” I think it was a chemical they used long ago.

    War is never easy for anyone, but I think that our fathers and their fathers were the “test dummies” for different chemicals, and weapons… (just saying)

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