Some thoughts on the day after Veteran’s Day

I spent yesterday watching people’s Veteran’s Day messages fly past me in a flurry on social media. Veteran friends changed their profile pictures to display themselves in uniform. Some of them goofy, some of them serious. People posted photos of relatives that have been lost in the line of duty and photos of generations past who have served in the military.

I’m from a military family. We have served in every war since we landed in this country in the early 1900s. My family photo albums are full of men in uniform. Mostly army, although my father is a formerly active Marine.

Growing up, I had a lot of good feelings about the military. And I still do. I think that there is something to be said for the type of bonding that happens when you are a part of a group like the military. And I think that America in particular is a country in which families like mine are not the exception, but the rule in terms of military service.

The problem with growing up, though, is that it tends to complicate any bucolic feelings you may have had about the things that surrounded you growing up.

I have known a lot of veterans in my time. The first one was, obviously, my father. He enlisted in the Marines when he was young. He wanted to serve his country over in Vietnam. The second veteran that I knew was my uncle Paul. He was the youngest boy in my mother’s family. Unlike my father, he actually was sent overseas to Vietnam to fight. He came back to a country who hated him and a VA that did not treat him for the PTSD that he suffered from due to his time spent overseas. He came home to no job, no prospects, and nursing a crippling heroin addiction that would follow him for the rest of his life, leading to the loss of his leg and his eventual death due to overdose in 2005 when I was 21.

Since my uncle died, I have known many other veterans. I have seen them begging for money here in Philadelphia. I have become friends with them. I have listened to them talk about their time spent overseas fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan or Korea or even Vietnam. And I have heard them when they have talked about the way they have been treated when they have come home. The way they have been reviled by the general public. Disregarded by Congress. And underserved by the VA.

The United States of America has been at war in one country or another since 1779. That’s 236 years of conflict. 236 years of soldiers fighting and dying in service to their country. I hold those soldiers in my heart and have the utmost respect for their service and sacrifice. I salute every single one of them. And I am grateful to their families who have to give up so much when they give up their soldiers to fight.

But I have a serious problem with a country where we have nearly spent two and a half centuries at war. I have a serious problem with the leaders of a country that vote consistently against legislation that is designed to help our veterans when they return home. I find it shocking that the rate of veteran suicide is so high that we have organizations dedicated to stopping it. That rate is so high because the people that we send away to fight our endless wars for us do not have the support necessary when they return to deal with issues effecting their mental health.

So while I support wholeheartedly the people fighting for our country, I cannot support the warmongering of the country that they represent. And I cannot sanction or abide the pattern of neglect that I have seen enacted throughout my entire life when it comes to veterans health.

Happy Veteran’s Day. Let’s do better for the people we call on to make the highest sacrifice imaginable when called to serve.

Featured image is by Martha Rosler and is entitled Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful – First Lady Pat Nixon (1972).

Other People’s Pools

in the summertime we’d gather.
when the heat rose through our feet
and made our barefoot lives untenable.

our parents packed and piled us,
we teams of children, small barbarians,
into mini vans and busses.
on arrival we threw ourselves through
neighbors houses, loud with summer frenzy.

we were chaos manifest. we
did not pause to take in the serenity
that is a dormant pool.
its mirrored surface marked
with leaves of trees
too hot to bear the weight
gentle ripples caused by bugs’ wings
iridescent, brushing the surface
on their way about their business.

delirious with heat,
sick with the sun, we
scattered into riotous motion
the bugs who buzzed
around the surface
                (dancing, biting things
                their green chrysalises
                the color of our bathing suits)

sticky in the sun we
plunged, bodies arching
in the light like rainbows,
into blue and white.
so cold our teeth would chatter
so pure we would not protest
the chill that arched through to our bones.

we tossed each other’s toys and then,
mimicking the pose of ancient divers,
set out. fingers fumbling, we found them
floating to the bottom of the pool
bellies brushing cement,
eyes open, goggles on.

we were sharks, then,
fingers clutching prizes, predatory,
the sea of legs above a tempting sight.
we stalked the icy depths,
eight feet below,
then pounced! our prey,
once friends, made splashing, shouting protest.

we lounged,
large jungle cats disguised as kids,
arms and legs dangling,
bodies sheared by
hard lines of cold water
splitting us
between earth
                        and captured sea