With America’s wars over, maybe now the media can reach out to veterans

As a Vietnam veteran who’s been watching media coverage of 20 years of war, including the pullout from Afghanistan, I would like to tell the media that they make me sick with their obligatory statement of “thank you for your service to our country” that they blandly regurgitate whenever they talk to current or former members of the armed forces. I have some suggestions for ways to help all veterans feel genuinely appreciated.

I served from 1967 until 1971 but, as a member of the Air Force Band of the West, I never saw combat. Still, we veterans who never served on the battlefield know that our support was important to the overall mission.

We have profound respect for our “band of brothers” who put their lives on the front line. Many of them came home wearing prosthetic arms and legs while battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, homelessness, and drug addiction for the rest of their lives. Too many others came home in a flag-draped coffin.

As a band member, I saw the tragic results of combat up close. I played taps at Fort Sam Houston Cemetery for a 19-year-old soldier who was killed In Vietnam. I heard his mother scream, “You killed my baby” as the Officer in Charge presented her with her son’s flag.

One Sunday afternoon, I was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center to entertain the soldiers who were recovering from severe combat burns and injuries. I saw soldiers show their appreciation as they clapped their prosthetic arms and legs together. One soldier, without legs, used his only remaining prosthetic arm to clap against his wheelchair to show his appreciation. As our combo was packing up, he wheeled up and thanked us for coming.

Our full military parade band was sent to Kelly Air Force Base to play patriotic music while hundreds of wounded soldiers were taken off the plane. After the wounded left, I saw many flag-draped caskets come down to a long line of black hearses each waiting to receive a soldier.

These sacrifices deserve more than a rote “thank you for your service.” For those members of the press who have never reported from the battlefield, please consider doing the following before thanking us for our service.

Visit a Veterans Hospital or Walter Reed Army Hospital and interview some veterans. See and hear their stories tell what war is really like before publishing your next story or posting your next tweet or video from the comfort of your home or office.

Talk to the families of soldiers who are still classified as Missing in Action in Vietnam. They are never forgotten. Their parents, siblings, spouses, and children live every day wondering if their loved one is alive, where he is, and how he is being treated. For decades, they have celebrated birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduations, and weddings with that shadow hanging over them.

Visit a veteran who lives in a Tunnel to Towers home to see how the scars of war affect the way she moves through her home, cooks a meal, takes a shower, and mows her lawn. Then have her take you in her special-equipped car to go grocery shopping or to the VA for treatment.

Research Gold Star Mom Debbie Lee to learn how she dealt with the loss of her son Marc A. Lee, a Navy Seal, who was killed in Iraq in 2006. Learn how she still honors her son through an organization she formed called America’s Mighty Warriors. If you have the courage, read Marc’s last letter to Debbie, which is a testament to how great our soldiers are.

And finally, interview those members of the press who covered the battlefield. Many were wounded and some were killed. Hear from “your band of brothers” how their battlefield experience changed their lives.

Congress, with its 535 strong “band of brothers,” also makes me sick, but that’s another story for another day.

As veterans, we know what we did and why we did it. We took our oaths and we did our job. After 20 years of war and an embarrassing withdrawal, the least the media can do is truly honor our military.

Image: A 9/11 remembrance ceremony aboard the USS Portland. Department of Defense photo.

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