Veterans' Day Feels a Little Different This Year

Veterans' Day this year will definitely feel different to me — in both good and bad ways.  As a veteran, one of my favorite days of the year is November 11, when I get to pull out and wear my old threadbare 82nd Airborne Division "re-enlist" t-shirt.  It's the one time per year that I wear my shirt — one of my favorites — to the local parade, and then strategically plan out, like a battlefield commander, how to get a free coffee, a free donut, a free lunch, and still have room to throw in a free dinner somewhere.  The logistics are brutal, as you can imagine, but it's been a tradition now for over twenty years.  Each year that passes makes the journey more difficult as I find the time spent with family more valuable than the time spent gorging myself on multiple meals that neither I nor my waist really needs.

I served at a time when America wasn't at war; I came in at a time of relative peace, and my most difficult deployment was probably to Fort Polk for some Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) exercises that primarily involved sleeping in mud, sweating profusely, and having a substantial portion of my blood volume extracted by mosquitoes over the course of the week.  I'm proud of my time in the military and what I gave to America; it was a hard five years, and I didn't always like it, but in retrospect, the things I learned and did during those years made me who I am today. 

Shortly after I left the military, America did go to war.  Iraq and Afghanistan would soon be on the minds of all Americans as we began to hear the stories of victories and of injuries and deaths.  Back when I joined the military as a young(er) man, I thought war would be fun — I hoped for the chance to be a hero and make a name for myself...visions created in my mind, no doubt, by the many movies I had seen as a child where the hero never died.  But, year after year, as I grew older and saw the news of war, and understood what war really looked like, as I heard the stories of soldiers returning home with injuries to their bodies and their minds, I knew that war was not a movie, and it wasn't something to be hoped for.

The best of us returned home over those years, hailed as and women of the greatest character and strength, bearing within their bodies and minds the physical and mental cost of battle.  They were our veterans, our heroes, a living testament to the greatness of a nation where men from all walks of life and all callings were willing to give of themselves up to the last full measure to keep America safe and to spread the light of democracy to a world that was not as blessed and free as America. 

While I always made it a point to thank the old men I would see wearing hats that said "Veteran," I especially made a point to thank the young men who I knew were veterans.  I thanked them for doing what most did not, and for the freedom that my family and I enjoy because of their service. 

The Veterans' Day ceremonies seem to come more quickly the older I get, like Groundhog Day, taking out that old t-shirt from the 82nd, going to the local parade, saying thanks to the veterans I meet, and then hitting the road in search of some free meals.  But this year, it all just seems different...this year, it all just feels different.

Having seen what love of country is, having seen the displays of sacrifice by America's best, and having grown in appreciation for the blessings of freedom for which so many have served, my heart breaks when I see and hear of the callousness with which our current administration treats our soldiers, our "one-day" veterans.  Those who have chosen to defend our country, who have chosen to stake their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to maintain our way of life, are being treated in a way that no hero should be treated.  They are being threatened over vaccination, which is not a health issue at this point, but a political control issue.

I understand that our military members receive vaccines.  I remember standing in a room, along with dozens of other men, at Fort Leonard Wood, getting jabbed with all manner of vaccines and substances on my first day, not knowing what they were putting into me and not caring.  I still have a yellow paper shot record that might as well be one of the Dead Sea Scrolls for all that I can make of it.  But this vaccine is different.  It was created at "warp speed" with no long-term testing, under emergency use authorization, approved by the FDA because of politics, designed to fight a virus with a greater than ninety-nine-percent survivability rate, created for a variant that may no longer exist or be dominant, and demanded under threat to be injected into some of the healthiest Americans.

I had always assumed that the greatest threat to our soldiers, sailors, and airmen would be from somewhere overseas, from some malevolent adversary with a bad haircut wearing something that looks like one of Hillary Clinton's pantsuits.  Indeed, that was the case with Iraq and Afghanistan over the last twenty or so years.  But my heart breaks as I see that the new greatest threat to these men now comes from the military they joined, from the commanders who swore to defend their troops, and from the country that relies upon the voluntary enlistments and commissions of patriotic Americans.

I'm torn, as I know that an order is an order...but this whole situation just feels wrong, when I read accounts of the commander in chief opposing honorable discharges for those service members who refuse this particular vaccine, Navy SEALs being harassed and intimidated, and calls for military members to repay their bonuses and the costs of their training.  This can't be about what's best for our heroes; this can't be about caring for them, who have seen and sacrificed so much, as the best that America has to offer; this can't be about making our nation safe by breaking and destroying the lives of patriotic men in their prime.

Most veterans are extremely proud to have served their country; they are proud to have given some bit of themselves in support of our way of life and to have carried the torch of liberty and passed the beacon of freedom from one set of protectors to the next.  To financially ruin these underpaid heroes with repayments for training and to discharge them with anything less than an honorable discharge, which would limit their employment and benefit opportunities for life, would be the greatest betrayal to our brave men and women.  It would be more than a betrayal; it would be malicious depravity of the highest order, disgusting, and a violation of all that is decent and good about this country.  It is almost sickening to think that anyone, let alone the commander in chief, would condemn these individuals to such a bleak future for the sake of an experimental vaccine.

Indeed, Veterans' Day this year does feel different, and I will celebrate a little more loudly this year, cheering for the floats as they pass by, hugging my children a little tighter as we watch, telling them of what heroism looks like and why those men are deserving of honor, teaching them of what America really stands for and what duty really is.  As I enjoy my free meal with my family, telling them stories of my time in the military, I will lead my family in a prayer for those brave men who are now in the most intense fight of their lives with the most at stake if they lose.  God bless America, our military, and our veterans.

Image via Max Pixel.

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