Written by Jake T. Johnson, USMC
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
As is the tradition around here, whenever a patriotic holiday comes around they open up the storage shed out back where they keep me and lure me out and strap me to a computer to write some words down. Those that know me personally know that I usually try and keep things pretty light, I would rather go for the quick laugh than risk letting things go any deeper. This year I was asked if I wanted to write a blog post for the company and obviously I accepted because this topic is something that I have become very passionate about. For me, writing is a form of therapy. 99% of the things that I write stay in my journals or scribbled on one of the notepads I carry around with me throughout the day. I have a couple of journals laying around somewhere in the house that I filled up during deployments. Maybe one of these days I’ll pick them up and read through them again. Maybe not. Maybe I am scared that if I go through them over and over I will gain some sort of closure and understanding that I both want and don’t want at the same time. For those of us that came home from our wars, we are left carrying around what feels like a physical burden that will always be there. Some days I hardly even notice the weight, but that doesn’t mean I am able to forget that it is there. Other days you can feel the weight in every crushing step throughout the day and it becomes impossible to think of anything else other than that burden you brought home with you. In the past, this burden was spread throughout a more connected society and community that we are ironically moving away from in the digital age.
I have a tough time opening my life up to others no matter how much I know that it helps. I would much rather be back in my shed. Either way, this is my Veterans Day post, 2017 edition. Don’t take my sarcasm for me not appreciating this platform to serve as my figurative couch to lay out all of my problems. Honestly, I am not even sure this will get posted to our blog here at LawnAmerica. I know I was supposed to do a meaningful, light post to bring in some traffic and get some clicks, that’s business. I have 4 drafts right now of 4 different attempts to write that version of the blog post, but I just couldn’t submit them. If you have got this far, I ask you to go just a little further and try and put yourself in the position of the men I am writing this post for. I promise I will try and tie it all back together, maybe not in a way that makes the grass any greener but in a way that forces us to have a little more perspective and understanding of those few, those merry few, that band of brothers that came home and is trying to reintegrate back into the society they swore to defend. In the end, this post is for the Veterans that came back. The silent warriors carrying around the weight of a nation that we need to become more aware of as the citizens who sent them to fight for us. They appreciate the support and love shown on days like today, it helps lighten their load just by acknowledging the sacrifices. I would personally like to thank anyone reading this as writing is my way to get a little relief from the straps digging into my back some days.
Americans have been waging war ever since the birth of our country that was formed by doing exactly that, fighting a war. Ever since the Civil War, these wars have been fought in distant lands, far away from the public’s eye or thoughts. Each war becoming easier and easier to ignore if it was not something you wanted to be a part of. The armed forces and society as a whole has gone through very drastic changes over the last century. During World War II 26% of the population served overseas in the war. Basically, one from every family, most of the time more than one blue star was hanging in the window. Even those left at home were not just left waiting for their loved ones to come back. They had to make sacrifices of their own with rations of things like bacon, butter, sugar, gasoline, meat and much more. They even banned the Indy 500 so they could send that fuel over for the tanks of Patton’s Own Third Army storming to Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. Everyone sacrificed until the war was fought and won. The men and women who came home in 1945 came home to a country that was extremely and mortally aware of the price that had just been paid in the bloody battlefields from Normandy to Iwo Jima. It was an unspoken awareness that was impossible to avoid and it was that shared trauma and knowingness that bonded the citizens to the soldiers.
Jumping ahead to the early to mid-1960’s, we see a not so united United States of America moving towards the inevitable clash of communism versus democracy. Vietnam was at the forefront of every citizen’s mind and the top story every night. It became the world’s first “televised war, ” and soon journalists like Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather became embedded into every home in America. In Vietnam, there was a sharp drop off when it came to percentage of the population that served in the war. This time, only about 9% fought the war, with the other 91% back home. The differences between the Second World War and the Vietnam War were apparent, especially regarding support for the war both from those in America and the soldiers, airmen, seamen and Marines in the rice paddies fighting. There was one major similarity though, and that was the draft.
Before I go any further, I have to say that I will never be able to convey the amount of respect, admiration and a feeling that I can only describe as love for those vets that came home from the Vietnam War. In the last five years or so since I came home from my own war, I have been forced to confront emotions and memories that I thought I would be able ignore. After coming home from our war, we came home to parades welcoming us home and pats on the back thanking us for our service. That show of appreciation from everyone was something that helped us start the uphill battle we now faced back home to transition back into society. A show of support from the people of the country that had sent us to war. Veterans of the Vietnam War came home to a very different landscape, one that I couldn’t begin to try and imagine and I am glad that I did not have to imagine.
The draft in Vietnam was one of the major friction points that I read about and can see learning about that time in our history. I don’t think the draft would work today, especially with how divided we are as a country. It’s important to understand what the draft did though compared to today and our all-volunteer force. The draft forced people of every demographic to look at the Vietnam War as something they might have to take part in. Even though the draft was something that contributed to how controversial that war was. War should always be controversial and uncomfortable; it should never be something that is glossed over or hastily rushed into. I am not advocating for the draft though, but it is worth looking back and trying to understand so that maybe someday we might actually learn a thing or two.
Finally, we come to the decade and a half (and counting) war of Operation Enduring Freedom as they call it. This war passed Vietnam in length long ago and is now getting close to passing it again as we continue to run around in circles. Continuing the downward trend of what percentage has served in this 15-year war, that divide between citizens and soldiers is as deep as it has ever been. Today, only .5% of the US population has served in OEF. Yes, you read that correctly, half of 1%. It is hard for the people back home to stay invested in something that is being drug out for so long and that is causing these men and women to return to a country that seems to have forgotten them. This is not a dig at anyone reading this. I was just as ignorant about the fact there was a war going on before I joined in 2009. I can barely keep my attention focused on something for a few minutes these days, let alone 15 years. The price and the weight of freedom have not changed in the time from World War II to today. It is still only attained through sacrifice, and now that sacrifice is being shouldered by a fraction of the population today.
Whew. Sorry if that was a lot to take in and I know it is not the most uplifting thing to read about but I had to write it. If we want to fix a problem, we need to stop sugar coating things and dig until it makes us uncomfortable. So, what can we do as citizens to help those returning home and those still struggling to plug back in? None of what I wrote matters unless we try and come up with a solution to help alleviate these men and women trying not to collapse. I wish I could have written a nerfed version of this but I think that would be doing a disservice to who this day is actually for, the Veterans. We as a society need to welcome them back and really try and understand what it is they went through over there. Just that alone is how you are able to help prop them up and give them the opportunity to hand some of that burden off for you to carry around for them. Listening, understanding and engaging are simple things that we can do every single day to help anyone who is trying to carry too much weight around by themselves. I have to force myself out of my comfort zone in the shed more days than not. I know things today seem like we are more divided than we have ever been. All of that would start to disappear if we would just look up every now and then and engage with another person face to face. Instead of focusing on what makes us different, we can focus more on what brings us together. I have complete faith in my country and in the people living here that we will get through this tough time and come out better for it on the other end. I can’t express how thankful I am towards the citizens who allowed me to be able to serve this great country. There are a million more ways to serve here at home as well. Look for some way to plug into your community and keep making this country a better place for the next generation. Everyone who came before us has entrusted us with this great gift and we need to keep improving it for the next generation.
Thank you for trudging through that with me and letting me unload a little of my weight today. Take a step back today and try to put yourself in the position of the Veteran in his day to day life. Especially in the 364 days until the next Veteran’s Day. I am not sure if Ben is going to let me come out of my shed after he asked me to write a light piece to mark the occasion. Either way, I’m just thankful that shed is here in America. Greatest country on Earth.