How can we honor and care for our veterans?
For one year I served in Vietnam, and for twenty-one years that experience was buried deep inside my consciousness with only an occasional glimpse allowed to others. Then in 1988 I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was the most profound cathartic event that raised all the emotions that had been suppressed for so long. The memories resurfaced, the anxiety level rose, the pain was great, and the guilt over surviving grew. The catharsis was not complete.
I visited the Memorial again in 1990. I was alone and had several hours, and I could allow myself to focus on my emotions and the past. I also was able to visit the booths and displays around the Memorial. I began talking with a man who was selling items to support the memorial. As with all veterans the conversation started with, “When did you serve? What branch, and where in the country were you?” After a few minutes this stranger–yet a comrade, a brother–put forth his hand to me and said with great sincerity, “Welcome home.” It was a welcome home that said, “You did what you were expected to do. You are accepted here. This place is yours, you are all right. I understand your pain.”
Steve’s wisdom for us today:
- Reach out and touch, hug, or hold the hand of the person who is grieving. (The caring touch says all the things that you want to say but don’t know how.)
- Ask the veteran about his or her service. Some questions to get started are:
- What did you do in the military?
- How long did you serve?
- Why did you choose to go into the service branch you did?
- When did you serve in the military? Where?
(Do not ask if they’ve killed anyone.)
“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.”