This past weekend was Memorial Day, a time set aside to honor our war dead with parades and fluttering flags upon their graves, and hopefully, with solemn remembrance of who they were and what might have been.
Jack fell on Saturday night, a fall that badly bruised his back and shoulder and arm and required the help of EMTs to get him on his feet. This happens frequently but always leaves me a bit stunned, knowing the next fall might well be life changing. I spent the weekend thinking of the long term effects of war that our combat vets live with every day, every night, every minute.
This week, two men were killed up the coast in Oregon when they stepped in to protect teenage girls from an Aryan Brotherhood bully. Though I suppose that term is redundant. Nazis, racists, bigots – these folks are, by definition, bullies. The men who stepped up, protected the girls, and were thus killed, were both veterans. That, somehow, gave me hope that the good learned in combat might just balance the trauma, or okay not balance, but set the scales bouncing a bit on their axis.
Because you see, after twenty-five years of living with the effects of Jack’s war trauma, he and I are now living with a diagnoses of a fairly rare central brain disorder and I cannot help but wonder if his exposure to Agent Orange, and the horrors of war, watered for fifty years with the chemical effects on the brain of physical injury and post-traumatic stress – if all of this has not brought us to where we are. And, somehow, I find myself with a desperate and irrational need to justify, to convince myself that the strength gained from living through his war somehow offsets the damage done.
This need is, of course, a means of embracing my own expenditure – twenty-five years of my life with a man whose strength and courage is a daily inspiration and whose needs and wounds require more patience and understanding than I possess on a near-daily basis.
At this stage, I receive a great deal of help from the VA with Jack’s care and, honestly, that is the only reason he is able to live in our home and not in a skilled nursing facility. There are caregivers – and I am now far more caregiver than wife, and that is a deep and abiding sadness – who deal with needs as great or greater than Jack’s and who do so with little or no help. As a combat wounded veteran Jack qualifies for help, medical care for which I advocate and cajole and then, occasionally, demand. Still, I am grateful for the care he receives, know it literally saves both his life and mine.
I suppose my point here, this week after Memorial Day, is that not everyone who dies from combat, dies on the battlefield. People are changed, sometimes beyond recognition, by the horrors, the absolute inability to justify what happens in war with any possible civilian moral compass. War destroys lives. It’s not that damn difficult a concept. Despite what the flag wavers and politicians tell you, there’s no glory on a battlefield.
There’s honor, and courage, and persistence, but there is no glory.