10 Things to think about on Remembrance Day that you might not have considered...
I'm taking this opportunity to repost a blog I shared several years ago.
November 11. Remembrance Day. The day we are all supposed to pause and be thankful for the sacrifices that are made so that we can continue to live safe and free.
It’s meant to be a day of reflection but often it just gets treated as an extra holiday. We put on our poppies and think well of our soldiers and take the day off. But how often do we really think about the things that Remembrance day stands for? I mean really in depth. How often do we look at the little things and the side things and the stuff nobody ever notices?
In that spirit I have compiled a short list of ten things most people may not have considered when thinking of Remembrance Day.
Not all veterans are old. There is a tendency for people of my generation to imagine veterans as grizzled old men who fought in the World Wars and Korea. Men who served all over the world ages ago. There is a real tendency to forget the youthful face of todays veterans. Young people have served in combat in Bosnia and Afghanistan among other places, sometimes multiple times. Some of them are tragically young indeed. It’s easy to forget that our newer generations bear the scars and burdens of combat as well as our older ones. Remember our youth.
Not all soldiers are men. Veterans affairs refers to me as Mr. out of habit. I fill out forms that ask me for my wife’s name and occupation. It’s a foregone conclusion that I must be a man. It’s common for people to assume our soldiers and veterans are men and to edit out the huge and important contribution of women. All through time women have served, both in combat and as support. We have given our lives as surely as any man has but we are often glossed over or removed from the dialogue entirely. Remember the women.
Queer and Trans soldiers. I have known many queer veterans. Some are still with us. Some are not. They sacrifice just like the rest of us. Of the several transgender veterans I’ve known at least one is no longer with us. She was fighting a war on several different fronts and it ultimately destroyed her. Soldiers in these categories are not always accepted by their fellow soldiers. It can be a horrifically hard life to lead but they lead it bravely and with grace. Remember those who fight for your right to hate them.
Service animals. We don’t often consider the non-humans who have served and died and who continue to serve today. From Hannibal’s elephants to the horses of the cavalry, animals have played huge and important roles in both war time and peace time. Oxen, camels, horses, even goats have been used to transport supplies and carry soldiers. Pigeons were used to send messages. Today well trained and intelligent dogs serve as bomb sniffers in combat and equally well trained and intelligent dogs serve at home as support for soldiers who have been rendered blind, disabled, or suffer from PTSD. My cat, who has no training at all, has nonetheless become very intuitive and always comes to me when my PTSD symptoms flare up. She calms me down and helps me cope. Even something as small as the leeches used to reestablish blood flow after a limb has been severed are doing their duty and helping us in our efforts. Remember the animals.
Spouses. My Grandmother was married to a soldier. He was away for years at a time in two different wars. While he was gone she ran the house and raised the kids and paid the bills. She kept the family together so that it would still be there for him when he came home. When he was not deployed she faithfully followed him around the country and around the world as he got posted hither thither and yon. She is one of many spouses who have given up huge parts of their lives in support of the military and in the fight to defend ourselves and those that cannot defend themselves. Combat not only takes a serving spouse away but often returns one who has changed entirely. Spouses in that lifestyle sacrifice greatly. Remember the spouses who wait at home.
Children. The children of soldiers often grow up too fast. My daughter was eight years old when I left for Afghanistan. She essentially hasn’t been a child since then. She moved around with me and spent huge chunks of time with care givers because of my training and the fact that I didn’t have a spouse to leave her with. She struggled to make or keep friends as she moved back and forth and she faced things in life without me because of the demands of being a soldier. She sacrificed her life just as surely as any soldier has. Remember the children.
Civilians. Not all of the sacrifices made for our continued freedom and safety have been made by soldiers. Many civilians have gone out of their way and endangered themselves in order to warn soldiers of imminent attacks or point out to them the placement of IEDs. Civilians in war zones take their lives in their hands just as much as soldiers do and their contributions should not go unrecognized. Remember the civilians.
Support staff. A lot of civilians contribute as support staff. The people who feed soldiers and cut their hair and arrange their civilian transport. Volunteers, charities, and disaster relief all put themselves in the line of fire to support our soldiers and help bring them home safe. They take dangerous jobs knowingly and perform them in dangerous places. Remember those who support.
Wounded. Often Remembrance Day seems to focus in on the soldiers who have died in combat. The men and women who have given their lives up entirely in the service of their country. It is one of the greatest sacrifices and is deserving of remembrance. Sometimes however the soldiers who have returned from war are over looked. People come home missing limbs, eyes, parts of their skulls. They have to rebuild their lives around a new body, a new set of limitations. They are never the same again. We should never forget that they offered up their lives as well, even though they were fortunate enough to keep their lives in the end. Remember the wounded.
Mental health. Some soldiers come home from combat without a visible scar but they carry with them mental scars that cannot and will not heal the way physical ones do. The statistics regarding mental health among veterans are staggering. During the period of time that Canada was involved in the war in Afghanistan more Canadian soldiers took their own lives than were killed in battle. That means that PTSD and depression, along with associated substance abuse and behavioural addictions, have been more deadly to our troops than any guns or bombs. Remember the “walking wounded”.
Look back. Think hard. Remember.
I am a veteran of Afghanistan. I remember. I can never ever forget.