This year as Veterans Day approaches, it is different for me. As a veteran, I have worked over the years to reach closure on my experience overseas in Vietnam. In the past, I wondered why a country like the United States and many of its people didn’t appreciate my service. For some reason, this year those thoughts are not in the forefront of my reflections for Veterans Day. Maybe the past is simply the past -- finally -- and it should never be dredged up.
Instead, what has been on my mind are thoughts about what it must have been like for my wife during the year I was in Vietnam. My conclusion was that the real and truly unsung heroes are the spouses of servicemen and women who are deployed.
Sure, I endured the many hardships being a military advisor in a combat operational theater 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 the world at home were heavily filtered.
Yet, when I deployed, my wife of four months was trying to do the best she could in the “real” world while enduring a far worse bombardment of daily news reports and footage of the awful battles and daily protests of our governmental policies in the streets of Chicago. Couple that with the worry that 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 it. For that 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 or wounded - or missing in action. On a military base, there was the solid and experienced community of other military families that would rally to support a spouse’s loss. For those spouses living off base, those support networks were not in place. Hopefully family and friends would step in and provide the solace.
Having come within only hours of being reported missing on an operation just three days before going on R&R (a military euphemism for a short respite out a combat theater during the 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 a string of firecrackers was lit near us.
Military spouses are the real heroes on Veterans Day; they supported and cared for the unseen wounds of their spouses. They didn’t need to see what we had seen, they only needed to see what was in our eyes to know what to do. And, they stayed with us. 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 were a gift to each of us who served then and now. Lastly, while you are thankful for veterans and their service, what I would sincerely ask you to do this Veterans Day is to find a spouse of a veteran and just say, “thank you."