I’d add our day “in the sun” but it’s pouring down rain here and probably will be until next June. That’s our secret weapon against all those hoards of Californites who contemplate moving here but don’t… due to the weather blues. Ain’t cabin fever a great dissuader of geographic relocation? We don’t tan in the Northwest, baby. We rust. Regardless of weather, it’s a great day for living Vets everywhere to celebrate somehow surviving the experience. Think about it. If you were going deer hunting for 8 weeks (basic training) in the wild away from the comforts of civilization, would you purchase a brand new pair of boots that weren’t broken in? It’s a recipe for more blisters than you count. About week six they turn into nice hard pes planus hammertoes…for life. And folks wonder why Vets get a host of foot problems. Well, shit. Imagine shopping at Tom McAn’s Shoe Store and discovering days later that the fitter of your fine new footwear was hired last week and has no clue what he’s about. Oh, and no returns permitted. Suck it up.
Military life was different. I’ve done a lot of investigating over the years and see that statistically, 20% of my brethren who served during the little boundary dispute down on the Indochinese peninsula in the 60’s-70’s seem to have bent brain syndrome. That seems about right. 88% of personnel “supported” the 12% who were busy getting PTSD. 2.3 million served on or adjacent to the theatre. That statistic is skewed as it encompassed a broad age group. My father served there from June ’66 to May ’68. He was 48 when he arrived. I was 19 when I got there in ’70. PTSD wasn’t invented until 1981. Before that it went by a lot of names.
When a fellow airman or soldier around us went bugfucky, we couldn’t handle it. Who wanted that label? It was like a disease. You prayed you didn’t catch it too. I’ve seen a guy demand his 6 to shoot him on the spot because he was flaaaat aaass done. He didn’t feel like waiting any longer. He wanted to see it coming. I’ve heard tales of folks curled up in a ball and shaking for 4 hours after a firefight. And they got up and began it again all over the next day. A client told me his buddy had a can of peaches shot out of his hand and that queered him to eating c rations- period. They hauled him out about 12 days later when he keeled over from starvation. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Being a Veteran could last a week or 2 years. Or four years. Or twenty… or kill you. My dad did 33 but never got his fourth star. It appears nowadays, getting that 4th star isn’t a guarantee of ability or intelligence. History will be the judge.
I have, and still do, rep several Vets who were damaged in basic or AIT. They never got past more than about 90-100 days in before they got the ax. Actual time served is no measure of suffering or injury. I admit I had a little disdain for these Veterans until I read their c files and STRs. The ones that break my heart are the MST survivors. It’s difficult to think back on my years in service and conceive of any man who would brutally beat a fellow servicewoman senseless and rape her. Or spike her drink ad nauseum.
Veterans comprise about 2% of the American population. We were promised much at enlistment and are now promised much still. Actual “gifts” are nebulous and often come in the form of parades and attaboys. For the homeless Vets, an endless supply of used clothing and toiletries are there for the asking. Jobs? Well, not exactly. Job fairs though. The prospective employers want to view the wares. Housing for homeless Vets? You mean, like, nationwide, dude? Well, pilgrim, that’s a work in progress since you came home from Saigon. We’re still in the formative stages of firming it up for our first homeless housing project in west L.A. We’re breaking ground in the next few years.
I wonder how many of you decided one day to file a claim with VA. They sent you down to the VA Medical Center/Hospital for your c&p fully well knowing you were going to see the worst of the worst casualties outside the front door taking a smoke break. VA outlawed it indoors in 1989. So you show up for your hearing c&p and here’s two wheelchair-bound former 11 Bravos mokin’ a Marb out front with no legs down below their knees. They’re happy but they just pissed on your parade. Tinnitus seemed like pretty small potatoes compared to their predicament. So you turned and left-embarrassed as hell. That would be me in June 1989 at the Seattle VAMC. I did go to my back exam later but lost. It would take me another 18 years and a medical death sentence to swallow my pride and seek a claim again.
I’m proud of what I did. No, not strafing gray jeeps or arranging introductions to God for Pathet Lao in contact. I think my reservations about the Vietnam War are retrospective. We were like Hessians in the Revolutionary War. We didn’t have a dog in the fight. The term mercenary almost rises to the lips. I’m sure our motives were pure but you have to admit it sure seems like one hell of a coincidence that we had all those brand new Hueys and Chinooks, untested 16s and Pigs-even newer versions of the venerable CBU 26 with 45 minute time-delayed bombees. You’d think the Poobahs might learn from a couple of world wars and a policing action in Korea, but no. With the latest end to Afstan, we will hopefully enter a new period of peace. Keep your fingers crossed because America becomes tone deaf about every 50 years a la George Santayana.
Veterans are an integral part of the backbone of America. Our skills, for the most part, are convertible into civilian pursuits. We enjoy a special place in our communities- or should. But… no Veteran deserves to be homeless. It should be against the law to permit that. I see the glimmerings of hope at the West LA campus where the VA has been shamed into finally allocating space for the homeless Vet on their sprawling 26 acres gifted to them for this very purpose almost 100 years ago. To think it would take this long to induce them to act in our interests is disturbing to say the least.
Happy Veterans Day to you all. Live long and prosper. And while you’re at it, if you see a Vet in less than ideal circumstances, help him out. If the shoe were on the other foot, you’d appreciate it. Happy 246th Birthday to our Marine Vets. Wetback 26 standing by on frequency.