I was 18 when I enlisted  in the Army. It was just after Christmas that year. It seemed inevitable that my “number” would come up soon and I would be drafted anyway. Besides that, I lost my military deferment when I was academically disqualified from the college I attended (I majored in parties as a freshman). So I took the not-so-heroic step of volunteering for the draft. It seemed a difficult decision at the time, but in retrospect, one that paid dividends in later years.

My initial training was at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The physical and psychological rigors of that training combined with Missouri in the middle of winter was quite an experience!  Rain, snow, mud, cold, sneeze, repeat. Lots of fun! Not a time in my life that I would want to relive!

However, misery loves company.  I think that being in the company of 40 men, all going through the same training and “enjoying” the same weather, was instrumental in getting us all through without casualties.  I think it is through this experience that the camaraderie of the “band of brothers” begins.  I still hold as one of my closest friends, one that shared these same experiences.

Throughout our training we kept an eye on the “police action” in Korea. I think the general feeling among all of us was “send me anywhere but not Korea!” In the end, my friend and I found ourselves on the way to…Korea, of course!  The peace talks at Kaesong and then Panmunjom had been going on for years.  A shaky truce was in effect, but there were still “hot” zones and violations of the truce when we arrived in Inchon Harbor. Having been issued live ammunition in Osaka, Japan before our landing, underscored the seriousness of our situation.

I was assigned to an engineering battalion stationed in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), right on the line that separated our troops from the enemy, just a mile or so away.  This is where I spent my time in Korea, first as part of the group assigned to repairing bridges and roads, and, later, in charge of my Company’s communications.   My time there had its moments: I know what it feels like to be shot at and to be frequently on high alert in the event of incursions that were occasionally a threat. I do not know what it feels like to be engaged in a truly “hot war”, or see my buddies killed or maimed, and for that I am grateful.

I guess by any definition I would be called a veteran.  However, I am humbled by the dedication and sacrifice of today’s Vets. They, too, are changed by their experience, by their catastrophic obvious injuries, the missing limbs, the blindness, the burns.  Many are effected by the less obvious, but also catastrophic, the “TPSD”, the full range of emotional distress disorders.  These returning veterans, injured or not, are clearly in a different class.  I am proud to have served and to call myself a veteran, but compared to these men and women…hmm?

How do we treat these returning injured Vets who put it all on the line?  The scandal in the Veterans Administration, unfairly impacting so many of our heroes, continues on without satisfactory resolution. We seem to be well prepared for war, but slow to respond to the crippling physical and mental needs of our returning young women and men!  We should all be outraged! We ARE outraged!

My takeaway from the VA scandal is this:  We have no hesitation in spending vast sums of money to wage war, but are far less willing to adequately tend the wounds of our veterans and ensuring their well-being after their time of service has ended. Veteran’s have been fighting the government on this very point since the first Memorial Day following the close of the Civil War.  And here we are, still fighting  that battle, nearly 150 years later! Our priorities are all screwed up!

Memorial Day, 2016 was just a few days ago.  Established in 1868, first as Decoration Day, then later Memorial Day, it was a time for the nation to honor all those who died in the Civil War by decorating the graves of the fallen.  Over the years it has become the occasion when we honor all those who have paid the ultimate price and those who have served with distinction to ensure our freedom. Yet it seems so hard for us, as a nation, to really honor and serve those who return from battle.

We have diluted the meaning of Memorial Day. It has come to signify the start of summer for many Americans and is often celebrated with cookouts, family gatherings, road races, firework displays and concerts. Lots of fun, and appropriately so. However, it seems the real meaning of Memorial Day has taken second place to all the holiday hoopla. While I don’t resent the celebrations, I am sorry that we have lost the balance between the holiday and the memorial.

We need to be better at valuing our fellow citizens who do, indeed, put it all on the line for us!  Without being too self-serving, thank a veteran for his or her service to us and this nation of ours.  They deserve it!

For What Its Worth.

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