It is said that once you have traveled, especially anywhere in the great wide world that you can never really go home again. Meaning that when you do go home, it never really looks the same to you again. Part of your heart and soul is left in the places you’ve traveled to. I not only believe this, but I know this to be true from personal experience. I’ve been both blessed and cursed to have traveled the world. It’s a wonderful experience and it truly does broaden one’s horizons.
The other side of it is that you never quite see yourself, or your home in quite the same way ever again. Particularly if you are used to (or have taken for granted) the comforts, freedoms and advantages that we have here in America. To see how people live, and are often forced to live, the conditions they live in third world or worse situations…. well, you come home with a new appreciation for what we have.
If you have ever served in a war zone, as I have, you have an even deeper understanding of the sacrifices that our military have made to keep us swaddled in the comforts of freedom. Some of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. First of all, let me make it abundantly clear that I am not one of those fine people. I was a civilian contractor and worked alongside of them, but not in a combat role. Having said that, I do know what it’s like to know that a part of me is still there. I know what veterans feel like, who upon coming home, feel like they have to go back, that they are missing a part of themselves, and need to go back to find it, somehow. I did just that myself. I finally realized what it was that I left and that I wouldn’t get it back and that I was only going to leave yet another part of myself over there. Eventually I chose to come home again, and I really hope not to go back, if I can help it. That is a choice our military does not always get to exercise.
If you know a veteran, or have one as a family member, please try to understand how torn in two they can be, especially on this day, even years later. Many Vietnam vets still experience this, especially on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, or on specific days related to events that occurred in country. Respect their need for quiet, for space, and give them the support they need. In many cases, a huge part of them has been left ‘over there’ and on certain days, that void is clearly felt.
Returning to the civilian world is very difficult once you’ve experienced what they have. The suicide rate is ridiculously high among returning veterans. It is estimated at about 22 per day. This is unacceptable. As civilians with no military experience, it’s probably unrealistic that we can understand what they are experiencing and consequently try to help them unless we are professionally trained to do so. I know a lot of veterans are actively working at reaching out to other vets to do so. Nevertheless, the VA system is failing them, and doing so spectacularly. This is also unacceptable.
So it seems it is once again, as in post-Vietnam, up to us, their fellow Americans, to support them, not with empty slogans, but to actually do something. So, don’t be afraid of them. They are people just like you and me, who have lived through extraordinary events who are just trying to become regular people again. So help them become regular people again by inviting them into our regular lives and doing regular things and allow them to decompress and give them the space to talk about things when or if they feel safe to do so, but by all means…do not ask. Do not be shocked if you start hearing things that make you feel uncomfortable. Just listen. And continue to accept them as regular people. That’s all they really want to be.