Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Changing Views on the Military: Some Interesting Perspectives

Every night, I sing two songs to Gabrielle when I rock her to sleep. One is Jim Henson's wonderful "The Rainbow Connection" (this is a standing tradition ... it was a "special song" for both Emily and Ariel as well) and the other is a song I heard often as a child from my dad's Makem and Clancy album, Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda".  

Something about this song always resonated with me, I'm not sure why, and I certainly didn't know as a child that it was about war, specifically The Battle of Gallipoli in World War I. I just think it's a beautiful song that has a lullaby quality that seems to work well for The Gabs.

I am always looking for suggestions for writing pieces, and one of my best friends threw this one at me:

Maybe a piece about serving in the military now vs. our grandparents'/great grandparents'? Like how those serve view it and how those on the outside view it?

It hit me how the outlook on those who serve has changed so very much.

If my history teachers knew what they were talking about, those who served were lionized during World Wars I and II and even the conflict in Korea. It was only with the political polarization of the Vietnam debacle and the unnecessary deaths of so many for a war that could not be won, really, that the military got something of a bad name. Soldiers were spit on and yelled at and disrespected when they returned, and there is still so much ugliness and bad feelings on both sides, veterans and civilians alike.

I don't think it's any accident that Eric Bogle wrote an anti-war song about fallen and severely injured World War I veterans in 1971, when America was so divided in terms of the military. There was a pervasive feeling that everyone who fought in World War I and World War II was a hero because the reasons were clearly noble; it was different with Vietnam.

With the 9/11 terrorist attacks, though, suddenly members of the military were respected, admired, and given accolades for the sacrifices made. (I am well aware that I am skipping a lot of military conflicts here ... I was either a child or too caught up in acquiring Guess jeans and Banana Republic t-shirts to pay attention to the Cold War or the first Gulf War or anything else I'm leaving out...realizing that I have a lot of history to catch up on).

Some of my friends joined the military after 9/11. Emily's father was in the U.S. Army prior to 9/11, and even though we weren't on the best of terms at the time, I remember that he called me that day, and I remember his voice shaking as he wanted to make sure that Emily and I were okay.

My friend who suggested this piece is married to a military man. She texts and messages me on Facebook often when she is frustrated and angry and scared. I don't always know what to say, and I haven't been the best or most supportive friend to her the past year when she's needed it because I've had my own crap to deal with, but I am writing this piece for her.

When I asked for input on both my personal Facebook page and the page for this blog (please follow if you're not already ... it would make me very happy to get over 200 followers on Facebook), I got some interesting responses. I figured I'd share those (anonymously, of course) and open this up for conversation, either regarding the initial question that my friend asked or the feedback I got from others.

From a fairly recent high school graduate who is now serving:

Please don't write it solely based on the wives left behind - that's all I ask. It's like everything I read is about the wife and kids missing dad and husband - well there are a lot of females here with me, a lot of kids missing mom, and a lot of husbands feeling the same way while there wives are shipping out.. Just saying (-:

From the father of a former member of the military (who's now a cop ... clearly my friend's son likes to keep his father on his toes ;-):

There's no immediate support or community for parents of regular army soldiers. Their child is fighting half a world away and the Rear Detachment and Family Readiness Groups are at the base on the other side of the continent. There was a practice of never going to visit another family without calling first. If your soldier is KIA you get a visit from two members of the Rear Detachment and the first you know that they are coming is when you hear the car doors closing out in your driveway. You (I) go very, very still when a car door closes outside, walk to the window and then start breathing again.

From the wife of a former (I think) military man:

I thankfully didn't have children when my husband traveled so I didn't have to explain why he wasn't there every day, or move Christmas on the calendar or sleep in their beds when they woke up crying each night; but I heard all those stories. I do remember looking at the clock each night and if he got home even 5 minutes late I knew he'd be on a plane the next day. I remember dreading the phone ringing because it would be him saying he was being sent someplace else and wouldn't be home when he said he would. And yes, I had them show up at my door once, just once, because I let right into them after I picked myself up off the floor and could finally answer it (they had come from a 'function' and decided to just stop in and check on me!). I wanted to watch the news each night, but then hated every minute of it because maybe he was in that country or maybe he wasn't, it never helped because I didn't know where he was!!! Oh I could go on and on and he only traveled for three years!!

So this piece went in a different direction than I'd planned, but I think getting the different perspectives is very interesting and worthy of conversation.  Please comment, either in the blog comments or on Facebook.

And a special thank you to those of you who shared your thoughts so I could include them here.  I appreciate it more than you know.

And a special salute from me, a mother and wife and teacher, living free in New Hampshire because of you, to all who are serving, have served, or will serve.