I am writing this column from personal experiential knowledge. My credentials to do so appear at the end of this article. For sake of clarity I’m using bullet points to dispel various myths, confusions and false assertions about veterans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Not all Vietnam vets are combat vets, disabled vets or suffering from PTSD.
- Not all disabled vets were in combat.
- Not all veterans like to be called “warrior”.
- Not all vets liked to be “thanked” for their service.
- Not all vets like to be called “hero”.
- Not all VA doctors, nurses and staff are incompetent.
- Not all vets hate the VA or the care they receive.
- Not all vets are U.S. citizens or become so automatically upon enlisting.
- Not all vets are Republicans,Democrats or anything else with a label.
- Not all vets think of themselves as portrayed in “band of brothers”.
- Not all vets are made in the Judeo-Christian mold.
- Not all vets believe in God or at least not a specific God.
- Not all vets were in favor of the Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other war.
- Not all vets hated hippies or conscientious objectors.
- Not all Vietnam vets became drug addicts or even tried drugs.
- Not all Iraq or Afghanistan vets are anti-Muslim.
- Not all vets are demanding legalized marijuana to fight PTSD.
- Not all vets want their kids to follow in their footsteps.
- Not all vets are suicidal, alcoholic or deeply depressed.
- Not all Vietnam vets were drafted.
About my credentials: I was born in Canada, but joined the United States Marine Corps as a Canadian citizen in 1978. I was not automatically made an American citizen, even though I lived here virtually my entire life.
I became a “naturalized” citizen many years later after I applied, was background checked and took a test. This process took a year. Then I went to a courthouse in Tampa, Florida and was sworn in.
Until that time I carried a “green card” which just meant I was allowed to work and live legally in America. So, in effect, I was considered a “mercenary.” I was never in combat nor would I ever lie about such a thing, yet I am a “disabled” veteran for medical reasons that are private.
When I was in the Corps virtually all of my superiors were Vietnam vets, but they were all individual human beings who could not and should not be dumped into one pile and painted with the broad brush of stereotypical myth.
I felt “thanked” every day of my seven years of service because I received a paycheck, “three hots and a cot” and a real purpose and direction in life. I also benefitted greatly from the constant physical, intellectual and spiritual training I received and which I have cherished ever since I left my beloved Corps in 1984.
I do not like the term “warrior” or “hero” for I and many of my thousands of fellow vets were just doing our jobs and did not think of ourselves as heros or warriors. The “warrior” term was an invented public relations gimmick used to recruit impressionable youth because it sounded cool and gave rise to comic book hero myths.
The military was and is not a pretty comic book fantasy life filled with black and white characters easily pigeonholed for stress-free understanding. It was a nasty, dirty, tough, exhausting and relentlessly tedious existence for many of us, but it did give us “character.” Of course I am speaking from an enlisted man’s point of view.
It is a fact that in most cases, officers had things a little better. I am a life member of the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association because I was a Marine Corps photojournalist and it is a great organization, but, again, I was never in combat.
I was “overseas,” but I cannot join the VFW because I was never overseas while simultaneously in a combat zone, which is one of their requirements.
I am a member of the American Legion. I have literally known thousands of vets both in and out of every branch of the military and that is how I dispelled some of the above myths — they just didn’t and don’t fit the stereotype carried by many Americans.
I have two brothers that were Air Force vets and I also served in the Army National Guard and the Naval Reserve, albeit briefly.
I joined the Corps to travel the world for free and for an adventure. I was not disappointed. I hope this clarifies a few things, but if not, feel free to ask questions of the local Veterans Affairs office.
“Thanking” a vet is fine, but in realty it is a backlash from the days when Vietnam vets were constantly maligned. In effect, the “thanking” may be a way of absolving the shame of our nation for the way Vietnam vets were initially treated when they returned from that war and so now all vets are “thanked” for their service.
Just remember, if you see me, I don’t want or need it. It was an honor to serve and that was thanks enough for me. I hope this clarifies a few things, but if not, feel free to ask questions of the local Veterans Affairs office. “Semper Fi.” Click here for more information.
Gary Bégin is the managing editor of NCW Media and has been a journalist since the late 1970s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.