Thursday, November 08, 2007

pre-Veterans' Day

If it hadn’t been for the Vietnam War, I wouldn’t have been born. Three months after my 18-and 20-year old parents got married, my father was drafted. My mother wanted to have his baby in case, G-d forbid, something should happen to him. I was conceived. My father went to boot camp. Then just before he shipped out he took a final physical and failed it. A high school sports injury, which bothers him to this day.

When my parents came to see me last June we visited the Vietnam memorial. My father’s old injury hurt so badly he had to stop every block. He refused to take a taxi, though, and insisted on walking the mile and a half to my apartment. I think he was relieved to feel that pain.

Of the 5 young men from my parents’ high school that went to Vietnam that year my father was drafted, three died in action and the remaining two took their own lives once they returned home. One had boarded the bus to boot camp with my father. The other was a relative of my mother.

My parents tell me my birth, as well as the births of people like me, are the good that has come out of this tragedy. Still, you can imagine how conflicted I feel.

I once caught my father tearfully aiming a rifle at a family pet that had been fatally injured and was in terrible pain. Imagining this sweet, tender, good man in that war makes me panic. If the price of my birth was sending men like him, who cry over a dying kitten, to kill and be killed for no good reason, it wasn’t worth it. Even though I’m obviously glad I was born.

I feel very conflicted about Veterans Day. Not about veterans. We can’t thank them enough for their sacrifices.

But I’m sorry about the way we make veterans. I wish we as a nation were more judicious about the conflicts in which we choose to engage.

I’m sorry about how we treat veterans. It feels weird to me to give them a parade one day out of the year, and then shortchange them the rest of the time.

The NYT today reports there are already 400 homeless veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. But we’ve been hearing for a while about inadequacy of disability benefits and health care facilities.

Considering how much I owe Vietnam Veterans, I’m sorry about how little I know about what happens to veterans when they return.

So far, two boys—I use this word because they were not yet 21 when they were deployed—from my high school have died in Iraq. The same school as my parents attended.

I know it seems ungrateful to our veterans to criticize war, but it also doesn’t seem respectful of the lives of future veterans to endanger them needlessly.

Every veterans' day I am in awe of how selfless, brave and wonderful our war veterans are. But I have to admit that, if I could, I'd also thank whoever injured my father in high school—today is his birthday, and I’m so glad he’s still here.

2 comments:

Gluckel of Manhattan said...

Maya, thank you for writing this. No matter how we feel about the war, we cannot forget the individuals whose lives are changed in the process. Thanks for telling your dad's story.

Ima Shalom said...

No veterans here but your post resonated strongly. I am a 2nd marriage child. In order for me to exist, my mother had to lose her young husband to kidney disease and my father's first wife had to cheat on him and destroy their marriage of 18 years. I try not to think about it too much.