My novels have -- somewhat to my surprise -- often featured characters who are veterans or active duty military, and their families. My parents' gonzo, WWII, lifetime VFW-member patriotism that I thought was silly when I was a little kid, down right embarrassing when I was a teenager and kind of irrelevant as a young woman, appears to have been lying dormant in me. At mid-life, when I was old enough to understand the historical context of the sacrifices made by our veterans and when I realized the terrible plight of the families of many of our currently deployed soldiers, it emerged as a significant force in my psyche. I specifically included story lines having to do with veterans issues in several of my stories because they seemed to fit with the story, and because, I suppose, deep down I think it is an important topic.
Today, I attended a Memorial Day Ceremony for the first time in nearly three decades. I experienced it in a whole new way.
The participants were no longer a bunch of old guys, marching around and looking silly -- as I used to think when I played in the school band that always participated in the ceremonies. There were very, very few WWII vets, but the ones who were there were proud and strong and, oh so dignified. The preponderance of the participants appeared to have been Vietnam vets. Most of them still show the damage to their bodies and their souls due to fighting a war that was so unpopular, and being treated very poorly when they returned. I did not see one active duty soldier (at least not any in uniform) or any veterans who looked younger than their mid-fifties. Why is that?
The crowd was made up primarily of older couples, most of whom appeared to be Vietnam era veterans, with a few frail old WWII folks here and there. The minority of the crowd was made up of a lot of individuals, many of whom were quite young as well as some young families, whose emotions spilled over, making me think they may have been relatives of recent casualties or currently deployed soldiers.
It was perhaps the least "political" of any Memorial Day or Veteran's Day ceremonies I've ever attended, but it was also the most emotional. Lots of people cried through the whole thing. The message of the day was that we must remember the 1.6 million soldiers who've been killed in action in the past, but we also we owe a duty of care for their surviving families. Just as importantly, we're building up a backlog of obligations to the currently deployed soldiers and their families, as well as to those who will serve in the future.
Therein, lies the rub: Who's going to be there to help the currently deployed or future soldiers and their families, if the veterans' organizations have dwindled to such a small group of old people, a significant number of which is in their eighties?