Do You Understand What You’re Thanking Me For?

From the May 2014 PNL #834

by Andrew H. Miller

Recently I heard one of my soldiers was getting hitched. During our 2008 deployment to Afghanistan we were a close team. We called artillery support during patrols with our infantry brethren. I was shocked that our team sergeant would be in Afghanistan during the wedding.

We still send people to a war. My old right-hand man will be in his third year of it. We spent a trillion on military training, hardware and education. The people we send still range from 18-year-olds to grandparents. They come home and we call them heroes.

I don’t feel like a hero when fellow veterans show up dead on Facebook and I could have helped prevent it. My VA therapist calls out my avoidance. 93-year-old New Yorker columnist Roger Angell’s stories of back pain hit home. I’m 29 years old and was never wounded in combat. Many have it far worse. I’m not a hero.


Untitled self portrait, 2013.
Andrew H. Miller.

I was burnt out and angry as I began my R&R, nine months into my first deployment. I shoved my way across an airport towards the final leg home. A swarm of well-wishers clapped for us with flags and banners. Passersby gawked. There was no opting out; they literally blockaded us.

A woman swelling with appreciative fervor trapped me in a hug. I discovered a teddy bear in my hands. I left it in the trash as I escaped the crowd. I tried to appreciate the love, but it felt hollow. The return from war should be a solemn experience. I saw myself as Odysseus discovering suitors ransacking his home, not a World War II GI in Times Square.

Every war leaves a legacy. I feel the ripples of Vietnam. Those veterans got hit hard: kicked out of America by the draft, then sent to a war of murky morality The survivors came home to protestors and pill-pushing doctors. The WWII communities were exclusive. My generation volunteered then came home to Wounded Warrior Project backpacks, congressional grandstanding and yellow ribbon bumper stickers.

But change the channel and my generation disappears. Flag-draped coffins don’t Snapchat or trend on Twitter, and after thirteen years of war they don’t drive news-site traffic any more. We briefly recall the ongoing war when a veteran shakes our hand, but the national dialogue moved on to relevant topics. Let me say it another way: my war’s generation is not relevant to most Americans.

I’d like to hear educated opinions instead of boilerplate sentiments. Going to war isn’t a prerequisite to having an opinion on it. Tell me what you know and don’t know about war.  I didn’t serve for your freedom of speech, but I will be grateful when you exercise it with sincerity and acuity.

 


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Andrew served as a US Army officer for six years, including two years in Afghanistan. He left the Army honorably in 2012 and writes to make sense of it all. Andrew is an an avid participant in the Syracuse Veterans Writing Group.

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