Dear returning veteran, Welcome home. Thank you for your service. Many of us who’ve served in the past are eager for you to meet with us and tell us your stories, when you are ready. We share many of the experiences that you’ve survived, and we’ve learned ways to handle the memories…and the nightmares. We want you to trust us, but we’re aware it will take some time. It took me twenty-five years to realize that I needed some support from other vets; I don’t want you to wait that long. Some of us have gained wisdom over the years, and I want you to know a couple of things (that we’ve learned the hard way):
Your nation has a short attention span; many of your countrymen are tired of the war and don’t want to talk about it. Thank God they don’t blame you for the unpopular wars in Southwest Asia, as they blamed some of us for the nasty war on the other side of that continent. Your family, neighbors, and friends will welcome you home with banners and flags waving; please be grateful for this. But most people will not want to hear your stories, because either they’re afraid of what you might say, or they know they won’t really understand. Civilian life and military life, especially combat, are worlds apart. Always have been: always will be.
Some folks will try to put you in one of two categories. They’ll call you either a hero or a victim. Don’t buy into this phoniness. If you are indeed a hero, the medals on your chest will speak for themselves. You did the job your country sent you to do, so be content in knowing that. When you try to wear the label of “hero,” you’re cheapening it…and stealing valor that doesn’t belong to you. On the other hand, there are many who (because of their hatred of the current wars) will treat you as pitiful victims of either Bush or Obama…or someone else who sent you into battle against your will. This is also hogwash. You’re not a victim unless you choose to be. You volunteered to serve your nation, and you can hold your head high. If you need help with some physical or mental wound, get it. And then move on with your life. Your community and nation need the experience, skill, and character strength you’ve developed while wearing the uniform.
I’ll have more advice along the path we’ll walk together. Again, welcome home, brave warrior.