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Battle On The HomeFront
The Story Behind the Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Last Battle
Do troops have a true last battle? For too many the answer will always be a resounding no. All battles are not left behind on foreign soil. Troops long home from WWII, Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, War in Afghanistan, War in Iraq still fight the battles, as I'm sure they did in all the prior wars soldiers fought. Now home, the battles have now become battles for their inner peace and freedom. They also struggle with the physical battles they fight to adjust to their physical challenges, as a result of combat. Battles that now also engage whole families and loved ones.
My husband was a veteran of WWII and carried with him mental anguish of the killing and devastation caused by the bombs he dropped on the oil fields and islands in the South Pacific. He was also plagued with survivors syndrome and would wonder why he made it back from a mission on a “wing and a prayer”, and others in his formation would fall short of making it back struggling with the same fuel shortages or lost engines. I was not the one he came home to, as we weren’t married until a good 25 years after he returned from the war. I would only hear about how he strained to forget or forced himself to remember. That was a battle in itself, as he often saw trying to forget a kind of dishonor to those that didn’t make it back. It also added to the stress of his first marriage in trying to readjust to being home and picking up where things were when he left. This is a battle all suffer when returning from any war before and since. A struggle for those returning and those who waited. These mental pains of war never went away for him. Families glad to have their loved ones back, needed to move forward without the interference of the war. “Happy days are here again” doesn’t always ring true to those who have faced danger and death. The American Dream wasn’t all that it appeared to be for those fighting their inner battles.
I also had an uncle who returned home from the European Theatre, who labored for years with what, at that time, was called “battle fatigue.” He could change in an instant by loud noises, by dark walkways or even closed doors. He also contended with memories of hand to hand combat he had to engage in as a ground soldier and had the constant reminder of those engagements with the shrapnel that remainded in his body.
I think the greatest struggle these two men faced for all their remaining years was the result of the propaganda forced on civilians and military personnel regarding the race of their enemies for their role in the war. It has even been thought the war on the home front was won by propaganda. But, there was also the propaganda delivered by the military forces regarding the enemy the troops were fighting. Both of these men strained to separate the hate and fear taught of wartime enemy characteristics with those same racial groups in civilian life. This was something I don’t think my husband ever completely rid himself of, he just avoided showing it in front of me and our children. This would be the cause of several arguments on forgiving and forgetting or making judgments based on race. It was a shameful battle and one that brought continuing pain and shame for everyone. Pain, shame and guilt for feelings he learned to use in the struggle to justify the casualties of war. Something I would strain to try to understand. We saw this same hate and fear after 9/11.
Crisis at Home
Our men and women have not always returned home only wrestling with both mental and physical wounds suffered on the battlefield. They have had to face wounds suffered on the home front. Vietnam was a very unpopular war and the soldiers bore the blame for the hardships and causalities of war. This was the first time Americans were exposed to war daily as they sat in their living rooms and watched TV and saw celebrities (Jane Fonda) fraternizing with the enemy. Something that still brings bouts of rage to those veterans and families of veterans today. They were attacked verbally and sometimes physically for the part they played in the war. They arrived home not to parades but to face another battle, one that became personal. They came home to anger and confusion.
I was brought to tears the year my husband and I went to DC for the dedication of the WWII War Memorial. Veterans from all wars since were present for the occasion. My husband was in a wheel chair at this time and it was a struggle sometimes to try and move through the crowds. Veterans of Vietnam offered to push him for me. I would thank them for the offer and tell them I could mange. I soon learned it wasn’t me they wanted to help it was my husband. They would explain they understood I was able but they wanted the honor. Many, many took turns pushing that wheelchair on the mall. They even at one point picked him up wheelchair and all to lift him over grassy uneven terrain. They would walk with us a short distance and in that short time thank my husband for his service. He in return would struggle to stand and offer a long pronounced salute before we would part our ways. After saluting he would always say “welcome home soldier and brother" and extend his hand and receive a strong man hug. He would often welcome home Vietnam veterans he would meet for the first time even years after they were home. A gesture of respect he felt that was long overdue. That was the year I noticed the real strength of the bond that is present among those who wear a military uniform past and present. The occasion was a dedication meant for veterans of WWII and I witnessed a sharing of honor among all generations of veterans. I’m even ashamed to admit to jealousy for the familiarity that these strangers could share that I could not. They have an understanding of a brotherhood/sisterhood that encompasses all generations. For some ,their welcome home was long in coming and for some it came too late.
Home Coming Is Not Carefree
For those who have served in war, they face a constant battle. Many face physical battles to adjust to wounds, scars, lost limbs, illnesses, or blindness. Still more face the mental battle associated with warfare. This list grows longer with each war: battle fatigue, shell shock syndrome, Post-Vietnam Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD, depression, insomnia, amnesia, traumatic blindness… and on and on.
It is these on going battles that bring even more causalities. Families, spouses and children are the innocent and the unintended causalities of war. They too suffer the mental stresses of war and are forced to also fight the stress of physical wounds. There is also the financial battles of military families. They are coming home to a high unemployment rate (highest among veterans). They struggle to once again become acquainted with their families, spouses, and children, some children seeing a father for the first time.
We are (so we’ve been promised) bringing our troops home. For that I am anxious (my late husband has a grandson in Iraq) and elated. We will bring home those lost, those wounded, and those lost to invisible wounds. What I fear is the battles that will come home with them. A battle we must all fight with support, prayer and pride. Friday, November 11, 2011 a day to honor and praise. Please do so.