WHAT IS A VETERAN ?
A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life,
wrote a blank cheque made payable to ' Australia ', ' New Zealand ', ' Canada ', 'Great Britain', 'The United States ' or any other God fearing country for an amount "up to and including his life".
That is Honour, and there are way too many people in this WORLD
who no longer understand it.
The story below was written by a Vietnam veteran,
but relates to all veteran.
Same shit different time and place
On the 18th of August we younger veterans remember our conflict. We always remember those who died. If you went and asked any member of the public what is a veteran, the answer you would get is somebody who served overseas. WRONG. I would like to take this opportunity to let the community know what I think a veteran is.
We are dead or alive, whole or maimed, sane or haunted. We grew from our experiences or we were destroyed by them or we struggled to find some place in between. We lived through hell or we had a pleasant, if scary, adventure. We were Army, Navy, Air Force, Red Cross, Salvo’s and civilians of all sorts. Some of us enlisted to fight for God, Queen and Country, and some were drafted. Some were gung-ho, and some went kicking and screaming.
Like veterans of all wars, we lived a tad bit - or a great bit- closer to death than most people like to think about. If Vets differ from others perhaps it is primarily in the fact that many of us never saw the enemy or recognized him or her. We heard gunfire and mortar fire but rarely looked into enemy eyes. Those who did, like folks who encounter close combat anywhere and anytime, are often haunted for life by those eyes, those sounds, those electric fears that ran between ourselves, our enemy, and the likelihood of death for one of us. Or we get hard, calloused, and tough. It’s all in the days work. Lifes a bitch when you die. But most of us remember and get twitchy, worried and sad.
We are crazies dressed in baggy greens, wide eyed, wary, homeless and drunk. We are Freedman Brothers suit wearers, doing deals down town. We are college professors engaged in the rational pursuit of the truth about the history or politics or culture of the war experience. We are sleepless. Often sleepless.
We pushed paper; we pushed shovels. We drove land rovers, operated bulldozers, built bridges; we carried machine guns through dense scrub, deep paddy, and thorn bush. We lived on ration packs on patrol. Back in camp we had more normal meals like fish, chicken, steaks, XXXX and Tooheys. We did our time in high mountains drenched by endless monsoon rains or on the desert plains or in freezing snow, or at the most beautiful beaches in the world.
We wore berets, bandanas, floppy hats or steel pots. Flack jackets, canvas, rash and rot. We ate cloroquine and got malaria anyway. We got shots constantly but have diseases nobody can diagnose. We spent our nights on cold wet ground, our eyes imagining ‘Charlie’ behind every bamboo blade. We slept in hotel beds in Saigon or tents in Nui Dat, barracks at Vung Tau or in the cramped ships berths at sea.
We feared we would die or we feared we would kill. We simply feared, and often we still do. We hate the war or believe it was the best thing ever happened to us. We blame the Government or Uncle Ho, and their minions and secretaries and apologise for every wart cough or tic of an eye. We wonder if Agent Orange got us.
Mostly, and this I believe with all my heart, mostly, we wish we had not been so alone. Some of us went with units; but many, probably most of us, were civilians one day, jerked up out of “the world”, shaved, barked at, insulted, humiliated, and taught to kill, to fix radios, to drive trucks. We went, put in our time, and were equally ungraciously plucked out of the morass and placed back in the real world. But now we smoke dope, shoot shit, or drink heavily. Our wives or husbands seem distant and strange. Our friends want to know if we shot anybody.
Veterans are people just like you. We served our country, proudly or reluctantly or ambivalently. What makes us different - what makes us Veterans - is something we understand, but we are afraid nobody else will. But we appreciate your asking.
Veterans are white, black, beige and shades of grey. We had names like Smith, Johnston, Jones, Stein, Beasley and Kowalski. We were Australians, Kiwis, Americans, Canadians and Koreans, and English.
We were farmers, students, mechanics, steelworkers, nurses, and priests when the call came that changed us forever. We had dreams and plans, and they all had to change... or wait. We were daughters and sons, lovers and poets, hippies and philosophers, convicts and lawyers. We were rich and poor but mostly poor. We were educated or not, mostly not. We grew up in the back blocks, in city shacks, in duplexes, and bungalows and houseboats and hooches and sheep and cattle stations. We were cowards and heroes. Sometimes we were cowards one moment and heroes the next.
When we came home and marched through people protesting the Vietnam War, some told our anger and horror for all to hear. Or we sat alone in small rooms, in repat hospital wards, in places where only the crazy ever go. We are Labor, Liberal, National Party, Socialists, and Confucians and Buddhists and Atheists, though as usually is the case, even the atheists among us sometimes prayed to get out of there alive.
We are hungry, and we are sated, full of life or clinging to death. We are injured, and are curers, despairing and hopeful, loved or lost. We got too old too quickly, but some of us have never grown up. We want, desperately; to go back, to heal wounds, revisit the sites of our horror. Or we want never to see that bloody place again, to bury it, it’s memories, its meaning. We want to forget, and we wish we could remember.
Despite our differences, we have so much in common. There are few of us who don’t know how to cry, though we often do it alone when nobody will ask “what's wrong?” We’re afraid we might have to answer.
So Australians, if you want to know what a War Veteran is, get in your car or get a friend with a car to drive you. Go to an ANZAC DAY on the 25th April. There will be hundreds there ...no, thousands. Watch them. Listen to them. Talk to them. I’ll be there. Rejoice a bit. Cry a bit. No, cry a lot. I will. I’m a proud Veteran; and, after 40 or so years, I think I am beginning to understand what that means.