A Change In Thought

Recently I presided over my brother Charlie's funeral. Charlie was 53 years old.

In 1967 at the age of 18, Charlie enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Vietnam. It was at the height of the Tet offensive and he was stationed in the Central Highlands. After a year of hell there, he returned to a country that did not want to hear the story of a "baby killer." So he stuffed it, got married and raised a family.

At some point, what was stuffed inside began to eat him up from the inside out. Several years ago, his flashbacks got worse and they began to interfere with his work. They were so severe that something in his mind would cause him to forget everything rather than remember anything about Vietnam. He would be found in his vehicle not knowing who or where he was. He had to be given a full-disability retirement. He had not left hell; it had followed him home.

His family loved him as deeply as he loved them, so they stuck together through it all. His wife, son and daughter never left him. Without work, he would spend his time caring for other men as bad off as he was; he became a "wounded healer." Some of these survivors spoke at his funeral. They spoke about Charlie as a man of great love who came to them when they were in despair and helped them to love again.

Charlie went to war out of a sense of duty to his country. His country turned its back on him when the war proved to be unwise and impossible to win. The care he received from the government proved ineffectual for the demons he faced : demons born of war.

Every day we can see the veterans of this war. We meet them where we work, where we live and where we worship. Some do just fine; others just get by. Sadly, an unknown number suffer a silent, screaming hell. We can barely look at them when we pass them on the street. Maybe, like me, we cannot stand to be reminded that we once condoned and supported this war halfway around the world. Thirty years later we still scorn those who spoke out against it at the time. We say they are unfit to lead because they betrayed our country. Too bad we did not follow them back then; we now know of the untold millions of innocents that died there.

We are on the verge of another war halfway around the world. Before we condone or support this one, let's take the time to stop and talk with the people who have been at war. Take time to listen to them. Share a meal with them. Ask the veterans what they think about current events. Then go home to our families and talk with our children about what these veterans have told us.

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