In honor of Veterans Day this Sunday, we'd like to share with you this heartfelt personal account submitted by a Vietnam veteran. We find it as relevant today as it was at its original publication date four years ago.
This year as Veterans Day approaches, it's different for me. As a veteran, I have worked over the years to reach closure on my experience in Vietnam. In the past, I wondered why the United States and so many of my fellow Americans didn’t appreciate my service. This year for some reason, those thoughts are no longer at the forefront of my reflections for Veterans Day. Maybe the past is simply the past—finally—and it should never be dredged up.
Instead, I have been thinking about what it must have been like for my wife during the year I was in Vietnam. What I concluded was this: the truly unsung heroes are the spouses and partners of servicemen and women who were and are deployed.
Sure, I endured many hardships as a military adviser in a combat operation overseas. I was keenly aware of what I was seeing and experiencing every day. The information that I received about what was going on in other areas of Vietnam and at home, however, was heavily filtered.
Meanwhile, my wife of four months tried to do the best she could in the “real” world while enduring a far worse bombardment of news reports and footage of the awful battles and protests of our governmental policies taking place daily in the streets of Chicago. Couple that with the worry she must have felt for me; what must she have endured and what feelings must she have had? On the one hand, I can only imagine; on the other hand, I have attended to some of them since then. For that reason too, maybe the past is the past—finally.
One of the most horrific experiences of anyone waiting for a service person to return from a deployment is seeing the senior military officer accompanied by a military chaplain walking up to the door of another waiting spouse’s home. Sadly, those visits heralded the fact that that someone’s spouse was a casualty—dead, wounded, or missing in action. On a military base, there was the steadfast and experienced community of military families that could rally around the surviving spouse. For those who lived off base, on the other hand, those kinds of support networks were not in place. Hopefully family and friends were available to step in and provide some solace.
Having myself come within hours of being reported missing on an operation just three days before going on R&R (a military euphemism for a short respite from a combat theater during deployment), my wife nearly received one of those dreaded visits.
Yes, it was a relaxing few days in Hawaii and a wonderful first wedding anniversary with her over the Christmas holiday. Yes, she would hold on tightly to me to let me know it was “safe” every time we heard a string of firecrackers go off.
It's for this and so many other reasons that military spouses should also be honored this Veterans Day. They support and care for the unseen wounds of their spouses. They don't need to have seen what we have seen; they need only to look into our eyes to know what we need. And through all of the ups and downs, all of the setbacks, they remain by our side, loving us in spite of what we have seen. What kind of military medal do you award for that?
To every spouse of a veteran, I can offer only my deepest and heartfelt thanks. You are a gift to each of us who served then and now.