What It Means To Celebrate Veteran's Day
The other day at dinner, my son said, “It was a GREAT day. We had a Veteran’s Day celebration! And there was a veteran there! It was his job to drive a boat up and down a river in Vietnam!”
My husband and I locked eyes above our kids’ heads, our eyebrows mirroring arched surprise. “Oh?” my husband replied. “That sounds like a hard job.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” said our six year-old, who is almost totally oblivious to the shocking volume of tragedy in the world, much of which impacts his fellow six-year olds. I know that, in his mind’s eye, he’s seeing boats (which he loves) and maybe even helicopters (ditto). You never know – the veteran in question may have mentioned monsoons, spiders, and snakes, too, unwittingly describing himself in six year-old’s personal nirvana.
I doubt that was his intention.
My mental image of the MeKong Delta is a fusion of textbook and Hollywood, but at least I understand that these had not been pleasure crafts.
(Can you really know anything, if you were not there? Can photography, or journalism, or a study of history give you sufficient perspective? Can I point to my family full of veterans, degrees paid for by the GI Bill, providing an education that eventually paid for the roof over my head and the food put into my mouth…can I pretend to know? Even a little?)
I know, though, that my son does not know. In addition to loving watercraft, aircraft, explosions, and exotic animals, he thinks that war is a cartoon, that the good guys always win, and the main character never dies. He thinks that guns are toys.
In short, he’s been living a life of immeasurable luck, protected by veterans and also by geography, skin-color, and parents with enough money to buy all the food, adequate shelter, and medicine he could possibly want (More, even). I am no clairvoyant; everything could change tomorrow. But so far, he’s among the luckiest children in the globe. He’s made it six full years, so innocent.
But This: Ignorance = Innocence + Time
Which means, of course, that it’s up to me. It’s my job to dispel those myths, gradually, so that he can become an adult with a heart. Somehow, I have to thread the needle between the twin sins of allowing his ignorance to continue, unchecked, and crushing his naïve little soul.
“We celebrate Veteran’s day,” I said, “because that was a very hard, very dangerous job,” I said. “Many young men lost their lives on that river. Your presenter was probably thinking about them, talking to you,” I said. His eyes were round, and he fidgeted.
I quoted Jimmy Carter. “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good.”
“But there are good GUYS,” he replied. “And bad guys.”
“Usually not,” I replied. “There are good causes,” I said. “Things worth fighting for. Hopefully, most of the time, our country has fought for good causes. Sadly, though, not always. And the soldiers, on both sides, most of them are just trying to do what I do when I go to work: Earn a paycheck, then get home to their families. There are good people, and bad people, everywhere. But no, there are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ It’s never simple.”
At this point, my husband is giving me the universal sign language for Knock-It-Off– which is the same sign as “Off with his head!” “He’s SIX,” he mouthed.
Which is true. He’s six. And completely unaware of how good he’s got it, or why.
Luckily for him, for all of us, I do know. I know that it’s messy, and complicated, and important. And slowly, I’m telling him.
Happy Veteran’s Day.
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Contributing Sister Site and Author
I am a recent transplant to the Northern Kentucky Area, where I moved last spring after a decade in Columbus, OH. I am the mom of three kids: A son, born in 2009, and twin girls, born in 2011. This is as exhausting as it sounds. Luckily, I thrive on chaos. I balances the glamour life of working full time with the rigors of first grade homework, playing dress-up, and moving mountains (both metaphorical mountains, and mountains of laundry). I had hobbies once, but don’t quite remember what they were. Now, when I get a moment of free time, I use it to catch up on wine and/or sleep, usually in that order. I love to cook, run, sing badly while playing the guitar even worse, and reading.