Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Emerging From The Fog Of Apathy

Our family moved to Tampa, FL around 1967. During those days I was not into watching television too much. I mainly wanted to go outside and play with my friends or just hang out with them. During the 60s, the world and our society was in turmoil...there was a lot going on. There was the Vietnam War, there were war protests, the hippy movement, free love and the sexual revolution, drug usage, Woodstock, counter cultural values, psychedelic rock music, the continuation of the American Civil Rights Movement..just a lot of upheaval and changes in our society during this time period. For some reason, my friends and I did not really talk about it at all. We just went about our business with our long hair, heavy metal music...doing our own thing. We seemed to have insulated ourselves from the goings on of the outside world, especially where the war was concerned and we distanced ourselves from our parents and adults in general. We were discontented and disconnected from the realities of life....angry at everyone and everything. Maybe what we saw on a daily basis bent us toward a degree of apathy, about what was going on in our world. Upon returning home for dinner after being out with friends, I would stop by the television and briefly watch the news. Each and every time, I saw updated news reports on the war in Vietnam. At my age during this time period, I had no idea where Vietnam was nor what the war was all about....what I did know was that men, just a few years older than me, were in a far off land getting injured or dying. This was drummed into my head each night, upon entering my house for dinner, I would see numbers being displayed on the television screen ...... ...KIA...MIA....Killed In Action....Missing in Action. Of course there were some sterilized video of the war shown on the TV but what I kept going back to were the numbers...day in and day out...again and again....at all hours day and night and even on weekends. Looking back I think that maybe I had become desensitized to what I was seeing possibly because of the number of times that I was seeing it. It happening to someone else and was going on somewhere else, far away from my cocooned life. That all changed on a Summer day, when a friend of mine that lived one street over from me, told me that his brother had just returned from Vietnam. My friend asked me if I wanted to go over and see him. I said sure and we headed over to his house. I wasn't sure what to expect because the war was still going on and I had never met anyone who had been in the war. After knocking on the bedroom door we entered it. The first things that I noticed was how dark the room was...shades drawn down tight with very little light coming in. A young man, probably 7 years older than me, was leaning back on the bed. He was dressed in military fatigues and they appeared to have been worn for many days straight. This young man looked like he was so much older than he actually was. He did not really say much to either his brother or to me. I was afraid to ask him any questions. My friend went to a table that was in the room and began to show me some items...war memorabilia that his brother had brought home from the war. I don't remember a thing about this veteran, not his face, not anything that he might have said, nor anything else about him other than he was wearing worn out fatigues and one of the items that he had brought home. My friend handed me a grenade that his brother had brought home as a memento. This grenade had the "guts" taken out of it, so it was mainly an empty grenade. The table was full of assorted military items but it is that grenade that sticks with me to this day. After visiting for just a few minutes, my friend and I left. As we were walking around outside, I told my friend that his brother did not talk much. My friend told me that his brother was different since he came back from the war. After meeting my friends brother, the meaning and the reality of those numbers that i had seen on television began to make sense and hit me hard. I then started to pay much more attention to what was going on with the war and to those who returned. Many soldiers returned to a society that shunned them and to a Veterans medical benefit system that made it very difficult to obtain the help that they needed. In 1974, at the age of 18, I enlisted in the US Army. Because of the date that I enlisted, I was considered to be a Vietnam Era Veteran. I have never been comfortable with that designation....I did NOT earn the right to have that designation. Others made the sacrifice and earned the right to be called a Vietnam Era Veteran but I was not one of them. I spent about 7 years in the military and decided that it was not for me. I was honorably discharged in 1981. A couple of years after I got out of the military , I had the opportunity to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The sight of the dark black granite walls with over 58,000 names etched in the marble can be very emotional thing. I saw uniformed veterans there touching the wall where the etched names of their friend and fellow soldier were and others just taking in the enormity of what lay in front of them. Some trying to grasp the meaning of it all. You could see it on their faces and in the tears that rolled down their cheeks. Like I said...it was a very emotional sight. Some were still wearing their military issued jackets from a bye gone war. Many seemed to still be dealing with the images, the sounds, the cries, the smells and everything that encompasses a war. At least that was my impression of what I saw. There were flower arrangements or even a single flower resting against the black granite wall itself. There were 58,000+ names of those that were either KIA or MIA during the Vietnam War listed on the wall.....each etched name representing more than just letters or a name on a wall...they were the father to a child, the husband to a wife, a mothers son, a friend to others. Real people who lived real lives and who made the ultimate sacrifice. And then there were the thousands of soldiers that returned home with injuries. Some that could and some that could not been seen. Whether you believed in the reason for the war or not, it does not diminish the fact that all of these soldiers did what were asked of them, made sacrifices in their lives and with their lives...they have earned our respect and honor. And for those who returned, they have also earned the full benefits that the government promised them and owe to them. For those that did return home and those that did not make it back....I want to say...Thank You and I Am Sorry.

And now, we once again have our troops on foreign soil doing their jobs as soldiers are expected to do. Upon the return home of these soldiers, I truly hope that as a society we have learned something from the wars and conflicts in our past and how we treat those returning home. I know that I have.

For more information about the Vietnam War, please click on the below link:
http://www.landscaper.net/timelin.htm#Participants%20and%20Casualties
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