This article is written in commemoration of Veteran's Day, 2011. I hope it matters.
The Battle Never Ends
Veteran's Day, 2011 (Friday, November 11, 2011)
For some, it begins with a knock at the door. For others, it begins with a telephone call. For all, it is the beginning of a battle which has no veterans, because it is a battle which never ends.
We first tried to "officially" recognize this battle with the Congressional declaration of "Decoration Day", which is better known now as "Memorial Day".
As Commander-In-Chief of the Army of the Republic, it was General John A. Logan of Illinois who, in May, 1868 declared:
. "...let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."1
It was an already common scene by the time this General Order was penned. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters in every hamlet, village, town and city could be seen littering upon the mounded earth, flowers and prettiness to decorate the graves of lost loved ones and friends. It was usually a solitary act, without witness in a moment of utter grief and despair. The specifics are not clear, and the possible beginnings are as many as those who performed the solemn task. Nevertheless, it has continued certainly from the time of the Civil War of the United States to this day.
I am always especially touched by Logan's General Order because of his purposeful inclusion of both widows AND orphans. The flowers were to be, according to General Logan, not a presentment of grief, but the symbolic promise kept. His words tell us that we are to maintain, support, and keep mindful the widows and orphans of those lost while in service to their country. We are, as a nation--as citizens, compelled to see them, not ignore them. We are to, where we can provide for them and with them. There is no legislative limit of time on this sacred obligation. Nor is there a spending limit established by law as to when enough is sufficient. It is now, as it was then a sacred obligation of our country's citizens to provide for, support and comfort those who have lost a loved one while in service to their country.
Their sacrifice, while singular, is to be met in equal measure by a singular nation. I know of no person who would wish this torturous burden upon themselves--ever. I have BEEN the person at the door to deliver the most terrible news a human will ever hear. Let's be absolutely clear on this. It IS the worst news a human can ever hear. There is none like it. Even when, in our present day, we receive a terminal diagnosis of, say, Cancer, at least it is we who will do the leaving--and then but for a while.
But, to be told that we are now engaged in a battle from which there will be NO ease or release until our journey home is complete? The commonality begins here, you see.
Cancer patients, or others receiving a terminal diagnosis worry about those who will survive them. So do dying soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coast guardsmen.
"What will become of my family? What will become of us, of me? What will I do?"
That's where the commonality lies. This is the same question the widow, the parent, or the child of a fallen hero asks when they receive their conscription orders. Spouses who now must make--alone the decisions promised to share, ask this question. Parents who must now find a way to exist in the most unnatural state ever conceived--surviving a child, ask it. So do the sons and daughters of the fallen ask this, and many other equally confounding questions. The questions never end. Neither does the profound sense of loss.
For many, the reality is not yet upon them. For some, it never will be. These are intensely personal questions. They are not asked of a stranger, usually. They mark the beginnings of a fog which will consume them for a time. But, the fog will usually lift, and life--forever changed--will somehow begin again. To whom do they turn? To a Pentagon who cannot at times remember their name, much less the name of their lost one? To a government who has been betraying its veterans and their families with such regularity that the process seems incorporated now into its very existence? Shall they seek counsel from an insurance company? Would it be proper for them to wish advice from their State, or community?
Where they usually reach out, these newest warriors, is to family and friends from within the world they know. Wives can (and should) join a support group, whiile Moms can (and should) seek out the local chapter of the Association of Gold Star Mothers and other Auxillaries. Fathers, brothers, and sometimes even sons can reach out to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the American Legion, or other military service organizations.
There are a number of important and helpful organizations inside and outside of government who can be of invaluable assistance to these newest warriors. They should be contacted, and given the opportunity to help where they can. They are NOT too numerous to mention. They are merely too numerous to mention here. If you would like, or if you need to know of them, please email me and I will help you as I can. (I still have my Rolodex!)
I want to focus, however, on "the least of these", the children--the orphans, General Logan called them. To whom do THEY turn? Is there a place where they can find solace, or peace? Therapy is a wonderful thing, and should be utilized to the fullest possible extent . Family and friends can sometimes do nothing more than listen, which can be the greatest possible help.
We are so enamored with war. We just can't get enough of it. Our nation's greatest economic enterprise, we have spent more money on war than the rest of the entire world combined, it seems. We leave nations in our wake. How are we to focus upon the orphans of war? What do we say to the children of war, the lost children who have lost a parent, or brother or sister in service to their country? These are warriors, too. Alongside their families, they fight the battle that does not end. No matter where life takes them, and no matter how life turns out for them, they will be fighting the war that never ends. Have we nothing to say to them? Is there nothing in our national culture that can even begin to address these warriors in the battle that never ends?
So, as this Veteran's Day has approached, these two types of citizens have been weighing on my mind. I wanted to do something to address the admonition of General Logan in a real way. I've done some research. I have had some help in my quest, and am grateful to those friends who pointed me in the right direction.
Today, I learned of a couple of programs that actually do have something to say to these forever warriors. I actually learned of the second program while researching the first program (they are related: one that delivers a cup of coffee to a soldier--from home).
I am truly American. I have never particularly preferred Tea. Tea was not a mandatory requirement in my home, but the coffee must always be fresh and available! Nothing in my world begins or ends without coffee. When I die, I will have a cup of coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a smile of satisfaction upon my face. No tea. No pipe. There actually IS a program where you can send a cup, or even a pot of coffee to a soldier in a war zone--or even a non-combat location! Now THAT's American!
It's called "A Cup of Joe for A Joe!"2. I just couldn't think of a better name. It says it all. You can send a service member a cup of coffee! Imagine that. If you want, you can send them a cup, a pot, or a whole pound! Of coffee! It comes with your personal note of gratitude. Now that is some kind of pen pal, wouldn't you agree? Isn't this a way to honor not only the letter, but the spirit of General Logan's Order? Is there a forever warrior that you know? Would you like to touch them, just a little bit? I just think this is a superb way to do it. I'm aware the recipient is designed to be an anonymous soldier, sailor, airman or marine somewhere far away, and I think it would be just an awesome way to celebrate Veteran's Day, 2011. I also bet they would help you out with getting a cup of joe to the forever warriors, too. Actually, I happen to KNOW they will. Is it the friendship, or the coffee that matters when you are hitting Starbucks with a friend, anyway? (For $7 a cup, it better be at least partly due to the coffee!) Visit their website, and send some coffee. While you are there, take some time to read the letters from the "Joes" who have received this gift. I dare you.
But, while I was just going completely stupid, insane, crazy nuts over that find...I found something else.
Hang on, y'all. Go ahead and grab 'em, the tissues. I'll wait. No, REALLY.
Ready? Check this out, and let your heart imagine.
I spent a lot of my life trying to help. I would like to think that maybe I did, just a little. I'm fine with that notion. I cannot fix everything. Neither can you. Neither can the "Forever Warriors". But we each can do a part, as citizens who owe a debt of gratitude which can never be fully paid. I urge you to go to the website3 and do your part. Today. Now. While you are there, spend a moment reading some of the letters from the recipients of this amazing gift. Let them change your moment, your life. I dare you.
I believe General Logan had it right. And, for reasons I still do not fully comprehend, we still have not figured out how to stop conscripting new warriors to this forever battle.
For so long as the battle rages, we must never forget the widows and orphans of our fallen heroes. But, at least today you have been presented with two really powerful alternatives that will allow you to remember, and even help them. I hope you will. I believe you must. I know you can.
Happy Veteran's Day.
Posted: 11.11.11 11:11 AM