An Obligation to Assist Veterans
One given with all wars is that soldiers, victorious or vanquished, come home from them. William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives tells the story of three World War II veterans and the difficulties they face after returning home. Seventy years later the adjustment back into civilian life has not changed much and is just as difficult. Wyler’s movie is required viewing for anybody who wants to develop a better understanding of the difficulties returning veterans face.
The veterans of The Best Years of Our Lives face a variety of difficulties such as physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feelings of isolation. Throughout the course of the movie these men struggle to readjust to civilian life often resorting to alcohol and distancing themselves from those who care. With the assistance of family, fellow veterans, and purposeful work these men are able to make successful transitions into civilian life.
Seventy years later returning veterans face same difficulties as the characters in Wyler’s movie. Seventy years later returning veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life in the same way as the characters of The Best Years of Their Lives. Seventy years later out returning veterans deserve more.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) with Myrna Loy, Fredrich March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell. Directed by William Wyler.
“No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.”
On a Bracelet I Always Wore
The summer before my frosh year of high school my Pops made a donation to the local VFW and they gave him a POW/MIA bracelet in return. My Pops gave me the bracelet with no expectations that I wear it. But I did. I wore it nearly every day through four years of high school and half way through my frosh year of college until the bracelet wore out and broke into two pieces. My Pops never asked me why I decided to wear it, but sometimes I’d see him looking at it on my wrist. My Pops never really talked much about his thirteen months in Vietnam. Not many people wanted to hear what he had to say when he came home, and after a while I think he just decided to keep it all to himself. I think that bracelet and the Vietnam Veteran hat that he used to wear were ways for him to communicate his feelings. The hat was one way to let people know he was proud he served and the bracelet I wore was a way to let people know that many sacrificed all.
My Pops passed away six years ago. His Vietnam Veteran hat, dog tags, and the flag presented at his funeral are proudly displayed in my home. I still have the bracelet. It’s tucked away with some pictures of my Pops from when he was in the Army. Pictures of my Pops, a man who answered when his country called. A bracelet with the name of a man I never knew who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Clinton Romesha and the Battle of Command Outpost Keating
We can easily follow, friend, and like somebody we don’t even know these days with a swipe of a finger, yet many of us don’t know much about the individuals serving our country overseas. Regardless of politics and personal beliefs about the government it is vital to take a moment now and again to think about these men and women who serve, and to try and understand what they experience. Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor is a remarkable book that provides a harrowing account of the courage and sacrifice of American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor recounts the events of the fourteen hour battle between U.S. forces and Taliban insurgents at Command Outpost Keating in Afghanistan on October 3, 2009. Romesha was vital in the defense of Keating and would lead a counter attack to push back the Taliban. Many books, essays, documentaries, and such usually approach combat with a reporter’s sense of detachment. In a few unfortunate instances the topic is approached with sensationalistic melodrama. Neither is the case with Romesha’s book. The reader gets to know the soldiers of Red Platoon. Romesha makes certain that we know these are men with families, friends, and plans for the future. Knowing these men makes it, at times, difficult to turn the page because we are uncertain about the fates of these soldiers. The reality of life and death in a combat zone is succinctly expressed by Romesha. This is a difficult book to put down. I felt compelled to read on and at times I was afraid to turn the page knowing that some of these brave men did not survive the battle of Keating.
It is important to try to develop an understanding of the experiences that the men and women of our armed forces must deal with. Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor provides us with an insight into some of the experiences and a better understanding of the valor and sacrifice of our American soldiers.
Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor (2016) by Clinton Romesha
Service, Patriotism, and Humility
I did not experience a lot of flag waving or political banter about the superiority of the United States while growing up. But I did grow up among men who served. My Pops served in Vietnam. My grandfather served in both World War II and Korea. I had three uncles who served in World War I (one did not return). I had a cousin and another uncle who served in Vietnam. This is nowhere near a complete list of family members who served but it gives you an idea of the type of men I grew up around.
I was surrounded by men who answered the call to service and went to war. After their service these men quietly went about their lives. They got jobs, raised families, and continued to contribute to their communities. They did not brag about their service, but they were never ashamed to say that when their nation called, they answered. Most of these men have passed away, and all have military headstones. One the lessons these men taught me is that a patriot is humble in word and deed. He defends what he believes is right without a desire for glory. A true patriot believes in what his country can be.
What Patriotism Asks of a Person
What makes a person patriotic? The backgrounds and beliefs of those involved and the context of their actions should be taken into consideration. There are two songs from Old Crow Medicine Show that focus on patriotic individuals and provide context worth a closer look. “Carry Me Back” and “Levi” from the album Carry Me Back may be about the experiences of two patriots in different wars but they tell a similar story.
There is one constant that runs through most wars, the availability and readiness of young soldiers willing to fight for the idea of patriotism. The Civil War is the first to address the idea of patriotism on the album Carry Me Back. The song “Carry Me Back” begins with the clear patriotic motivation of the song’s persona. He is a Confederate soldier willing and happy to fight for the South and his home state of Virginia. In fact, his brother has already left home to fight and the persona is eager to join him. This eagerness and patriotism fades as the war drags on and the persona experiences the horrors of war. The song ends with a young man who left home with the patriotic intentions to fight for Virginia praying that he be buried there. His patriotism has result in the ultimate sacrifice. This same story arch can be seen in “Levi.”
“Levi” is not as explicit in its presentation of patriotism, it is also one step removed in narration. “Levi” is told from a third person point of view, as opposed to the first person point of view of “Carry Me Back.” This third person point of view allows the listener to interject his/her own history and knowledge concerning the war in Iraq. Contemporary listeners know that there was a surge in feelings of patriotism after the events of 9-11. Although Levi’s motivation for enlisting isn’t clearly stated, feelings of patriotism and a desire to defend his country are likely reasons. The realities of war set in quickly for Levi, much like those for the persona of “Carry Me Back.” And like his counterpart (who is actually referenced in “Levi”) Levi dies in battle and will be buried in his home state.
“Carry Me Back” and “Levi” are about young men who decide to defend their country in a time of war. Their motivations for doing so are patriotic, but we should look at the songs in a larger context. The persona of “Carry Me Back” and Levi are patriots but were they fully aware of the horrors of war when they volunteered and what their patriotism may require? The evidence suggests they did not. A country needs its patriots, but a country should do all it can to educate its young soldiers on what sacrifices may be required of those patriots.
from Carry Me Back by Old Crow Medicine Show