To the editor,
As I watched the coverage of the D-Day anniversary I felt a wave of emotions concerning veterans from that day to now.
I had the image of men exiting the beached Higgins boats, moving forward through the chaos and terror of heavy incoming fire creating an open air slaughterhouse, running over bodies and parts of what used to be their comrades to do what they were trained to do. It had to be a horrific experience.
The elderly survivors of that invasion, when described as heroes, invariably said that they were not heroes, that the heroes were those who died while they themselves were merely doing what needed to be done.
Ira Hayes, who participated in raising the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and was subsequently paraded around the United States as a prop for selling war bonds, died an itinerant, virtually face in the gutter alcoholic.
There was no autopsy performed, the immediate cause could have been dying from alcohol poisoning and exposure or by being beaten after a drunken card game gone wrong.
However, from reading his story I think the ultimate cause was his wartime memories combined with a guilt, common among veterans with ugly combat experiences, that he had lived while so many of his Marine Corps brothers died and Corporal Hayes certainly rejected the notion that he was a hero.
The only thing different was one day a picture was taken of him and five other guys that had patriotic value to the public, three of them dying in action before Hayes left Iwo Jima.
In 2007 there was a sign on the exiting side of the gate at Fort Irwin: in large capital letters it proclaimed “Not all wounds are visible” then continued about suicide.
Korea is often described as “The forgotten war.”
The only first hand mention I have heard was from an older man who said he didn’t go camping, he camped out in Korea for a year and that was enough for him.
A coworker friend in the early 80’s was perhaps the funniest man I have known.
However after an evening of substantial alcohol consumption he suddenly broke down crying, telling me terrible things he experienced as a Seal in Vietnam and the nightly dreams he had.
Next day he asked me to not tell anyone what he said. For almost 40 years I have not divulged specifics, and he never talked about it again.
Perhaps humor was his way of dealing with what tormented him.
A second veteran coworker once dived under the truck after a sonic boom, and a third would go into stress mode whenever a helicopter flew over.
Another vet scoffed when Viet Nam tour packages came out because he went to Viet Nam every night.
In about 2012 I had a conversation with an active duty Seal about veterans.
One of things he said was it made a big difference that my friend had a moment of involuntary weakness when he told me about Vietnam.
I take it if my friend had spoken about it under any other circumstance it would have been a grave sin against his Seal brethren.
He added that that Vietnam vets were done wrong many ways by the government they served, the general civilian population at the time wasn’t much of a peach to come home to either.
Not long ago I had a conversation with a young veteran who was in Afghanistan, he has nightmares too.
He said it doesn’t mean anything to hear “thank you for your service,” it was like thanking him for drinking a beer or going to a movie.
He told me he would prefer to hear “thank you for my freedom.”
So to all vets, thank you for my freedom.
Allan McNew, Beaumont