Growing up, I always knew that my Dad was a Vietnam veteran, though it wasn’t because he often spoke about it. Rather, he couldn’t avoid the questions his daughters asked, with childlike innocence, about the scars, bumps, and indents that pepper his arms and legs to this day. As a kid, I knew only that he was injured in a war . . . in a land far away . . . in a time before I was born. And that’s all, or even more, than many children know about their parents’ past military service. Others, of course, can track their childhood by deployments, bases, and starting over . . . again.
But in my case, it wasn’t until I began working with veterans that I finally heard the details of my Dad’s war story (and unlocked a new understanding of him). My father was on the receiving end of a bamboo-mounted mine in Vietnam. He hadn’t been in the country long before he was injured, and he subsequently spent months recovering from his shrapnel wounds in a Japanese hospital. I can hardly imagine experiencing what he did, or what many of the veterans I work with everyday describe about their experiences serving our country.
Despite this, he still speaks fondly of his time in the Army, recalling the camaraderie, excitement, and adventure involved in his training leading up to deployment. For example, if you get him started on jungle school or parachuting out of a planes, he’ll talk your ear off. I even remember him cutting out a little piece of his old Army parachute to help me with a middle school science project. I must say, I was pretty proud when I showed up to drop my egg off the top of the school’s gym with a real parachute, and tales about its origin.
But the importance of my Dad’s Army service was underlined for me in 2013 after my parents’ home was affected in the Colorado floods. The basement and crawlspace of our family home filled to the ceiling with muddy, river water, and much was lost. In the days of clean up that followed, most of what lived below the house couldn’t (or wasn’t worth) trying to save. So I was surprised to find him, during a break from recovery efforts, on the back porch wearing his Army clothing bag. Washed and dried. More than 40 years after his service. It was a part of him, so it was worth saving.
Certainly there are many facets to each veteran’s identity, but the experience of serving in our Armed Forces seems to be an aspect that is particularly complex, deep, and meaningful for most veterans. What’s more, each veteran’s service indelibly helps define the lives and identities of their families and friends, even years after they served. But most of all, the service of our country’s veterans affects the lives of every American, often in invisible ways.
Millions of veterans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since its inception in 1775. It is due, in large part, to these brave men and women that we have a safe place to call home. Veterans Day, and every day, are great days to thank them. At the same time, many of the veterans I work with visibly cringe when they hear, “Thank you for your service.” This is because for many with invisible wounds, like Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), these words are associated with very painful memories and feelings.
So this Veterans Day, I will do my best to thank the veterans in my life and work in other ways. I will thank them by listening and respecting the boundaries they set around what they share about their service. I will thank them by sharing how their sacrifices have contributed to the freedom, safety, and security that I enjoy (and often take for granted). And I will thank them by committing to teach my son about their invaluable contributions to his life, most of which he won’t understand for years to come. To me, honoring our veterans means ensuring that the impact of their service on our everyday lives will not remain invisible.
So with love, thanks Dad.