I have experienced a lot of Veterans Days in my life. Almost exclusively they have dealt with, well, veterans. Veterans Day acknowledges that any time spent in military service involved sacrifice.
Not only did the veterans make sacrifices to be in the military, often the family had to make sacrifices and adjustments as well; especially if a spouse and children are involved.
Growing up in Fairborn, Ohio, which wrapped around the eastern edge of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, I witnessed a little bit of how military service involved the whole family. Many of my neighborhood friends and my classmates’ fathers were in the Air Force. Every September when school started I’d guess a third of my classmates were gone and there were a bunch of new kids. The reason being, the Air Force tended to transfer most officers every three years.
I couldn’t imagine moving to a new state every three years. Some of my friends had been to different countries, some had been in the desert while at Edwards Air Force Base, and one of my friends in fourth grade had lived in Alaska, Louisiana, and now Ohio. None of my friends said they enjoyed it, but it was the only life they knew.
That got me thinking that on Veterans Day we honor the people who served in the military and it is justly deserved. But I would like to briefly discuss how the veterans service may have temporarily changed the family dynamics and has been an influence on all aspects of society.
My Dad was of German decent. He was fluent in German and English and both were spoken in his house while growing up. During WWII, he arrived in France a few weeks after the Normandy Invasion serving in an Engineer Combat Company under Patton in the low countries and Germany. Because of his fluency in German, he served as an interpreter in any situation involving the German military or civilian population and his Company.
I read that war influences the generation that fought and the generation that followed. During my parent’s generation, the whole country was involved in the war; either in the military or in war production.
In my generation, I saw the military’s influence partly in the way I was raised. For example, when the babysitter came over because Mom and Dad were going out for the evening, Dad would call all six of us kids to the living room with an authoritative, “Front and center.” He would then tell us in no uncertain terms that the babysitter was in charge.
He was following the military tradition of transferring authority from one commander to the other with everyone present. There was no misunderstanding that the babysitter was in charge. However, we knew that if she did something against what we knew was right we should tell him or Mom when they returned.
The scoutmaster of my Boy Scout troop was a WWII veteran. In the regular scout meetings we wore full uniforms. For parades and other important events we polished our shoes and would have full inspection. These are small examples of how the military experience of the previous generation trickled into the next generation.
Granted, these examples weren’t the traumatic experience that some of my classmates and friends experienced when their fathers came home. But WWII subtly affected most everyone in my generation in one way or another.
The after effects of military service may influence the veteran and their family in some unexpected ways. For example, my brother-in-law’s dad always kept the refrigerator full, and plenty of food in the pantry. I found out years later that he was a prisoner of war in a German prison camp. His dad said that since that experience of prolonged hunger he didn’t want to take the chance of being without food.
That was a subtle effect of military service, while on the other side of the coin one of the patient assignments that I accepted was a veteran of Iwo Jima. One of my visits I asked him about Iwo. He just repeated, “Bad place, bad place.” This occurred before I began as a paid employee at FAIRHOPE. When he died I took off work because the only visiting hours were 2-4 on a Wednesday afternoon. I usually didn’t mix work with hospice but I knew that the wife needed support.
When I arrived about 3 p.m., the parking lot was empty. I thought that I came on the wrong day, which isn’t unusual for me. As I approached the funeral home door, an employee opened the door for me. I told him that I must have the wrong day. I asked about the man’s calling hours and he said it was down the hall on the left. Surprised, I walk down the silent, empty hall and went into a large empty room. There to the left was his wife standing at the foot of her husband’s casket. She said that I was the first visitor. I am so grateful that I came. I couldn’t imagine that no one came, I just couldn’t imagine. But he brought that “bad place” home with him so many years ago and scared family and friends away.
The Vietnam War greatly affected my generation. I knew people who went to Vietnam; two of my friends were killed there. And I knew people who were protesting the war; we were all affected in one way or another. As in writing about the influence of WWII on the next generation, Vietnam has also had an effect on those of the post-Vietnam generation. More than in other wars, many Vietnam veterans had a difficult time adjusting back to civilian life and this is causing disruption in their families even now.
This column seems to be focused mainly on WWII, but it applies to all veterans from every era. FAIRHOPE has served many veterans. My generation, the Vietnam generation, is beginning to become the prevalent group of veterans on our service. FAIRHOPE salutes veterans giving them all the honor and respect that they deserve. And their families.
Rick Schneider of FAIRHOPE Hospice, writes a bi-monthly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.