Thursday, November 11, 2021

How The Heroes Die, Veterans Day 2021


Please don't thank me for my "service." I was in the military, not the "Service." Service is doing something good. Service is what the person does who fixes your car.  When the word "service" is applied to the military, it helps to justify violence as a method for conflict resolution. Like "defending our freedom," or "bringing democracy," the word "service" is used to lower the barriers of aggression. The military solution to conflict is death and destruction. That's not "service." Call it what it is - the military. If you have to hurt someone to solve a problem, you are the Problem. 
Arnold Stieber, US Army Veteran, 1970


I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

I didn’t go to war to be thanked for it.

And I certainly didn’t go to war so that I could be called a hero.

Last week, a reader on Facebook asked how I felt about exactly that, being thanked for my military service.

Specifically, I was asked if I agreed with Arnie Stieber, the Vietnam veteran quoted above.

I do.

And I don’t.

Stieber’s experience was not mine.

His time was not my time. His war was not my war. His military was not my military.

The United States and the US military have changed greatly since Vietnam – due in no small part to the efforts and activism of veterans like Arnold Stieber.  While I don’t entirely agree with his position I don’t disagree with it either. I understand completely where he is coming from and I can sympathize with his point of view and I can unreservedly grant that he earned it.

He's entitled to his position, but his position is not mine.

Not exactly.

I don't feel disrespected or diminished if my own service goes unacknowledged.

I don’t feel proud and heroic if it is.

I mostly don’t care if others acknowledge my veteran status or not.

Unlike Stieber and many of his fellows, I wasn’t compelled to serve. I had a choice, Stieber didn’t. War was my profession for more than two decades, I served as both enlisted and as an officer, I joined the military and stayed of my own volition – and that makes all the difference.

As I said in reply to the question, I don't advertise my military service but I don’t try to hide it either. 

I served in peace and in war, I wish for the former and despise the latter. 

Like Stieber, I have little use for those who glorify and promote war as a way to solve the world’s problems.

Unlike Stieber I pragmatically acknowledge that sometimes war is necessary. 

I don't march in parades and I don't go to protests. I don’t wave the flag and I don't attend reunions. 

I’m proud of my service, I treasure some of my experience and try to forget the rest of it. I miss the men and women I served with. I was damned good at what I did and there are days I wish I was still out there doing it – but most days I’m damned glad I’m not. 

No sane man prays for war.

No moral man hopes for death and destruction, not even for his enemies.

Nowadays I’m certain that my haircut and bearing broadcast my status to those paying attention - along with the fact that I often wear the ratty fading sweatshirts from my former commands and so it’s no secret that I’m a veteran. But I emphatically do not feel entitled to thanks from Americans for my military service – or whatever you call it, I’m not inclined to argue the semantics of it.  I went of my own free will and for my own reasons, America owes me nothing for it. I’d like to think America will make good on what I was promised, but I cynically don’t expect it – and more on that in just a minute.

I do not demand respect as my right nor gratitude for my service.

But if thanks are given, I will gladly accept them in the spirit offered and return the compliment. 

If a business offers me a military discount, I will gratefully accept it. If they don't, that's perfectly fine too. 

Choice, freedom to choose, the right to decide to offer thanks or not, well, that's what we were doing out there, defending that. At least that’s what I was doing, others can speak for themselves.

And if you believe in liberty, if you're willing to give your life for it, then you must acknowledge people will use that freedom however they please. Some will use it to thank you for your service.

Personally I think you're a bit of a shitheel as a human being if your response to a simple thank you is a political screed and a lecture on semantics, then again that's your right. As I said, I don’t speak for other veterans.

But me? As I said, I take thanks in the spirit offered and return the compliment, one citizen to another, and it bothers me not at all.


But I draw the line at hero.


I utterly despise the recent trend towards fawning, blind hero worship of the military.

In the same conversation described above, a commenter proclaimed all veterans “heroes.”

She gushed on and on with glassy-eyed effluvious enthusiasm about “sacrifice” and “patriotism” and a dozen other clichéd platitudes and ended her comment by saying that her eyes well up with tears whenever she sees a military member out in public wearing a uniform. 

I asked her not to call me a hero, but I should have just walked away – and after she condescended to tell me what a “real” veteran is, I did, because like Arnie Stieber there are things I just cannot abide.

And hero worship is one of them.

We, most of us veterans, we’re not heroes.

I certainly am not.  Oh, sure, I’ve got a box of decorations in the back of my closet, we all do. Maybe I have a few more decorations than most, a few less than others. Maybe someday long after I’m gone my son will find that box and wonder at those bits of fading cloth and tarnished metal.  Maybe he’ll read the commendations and be proud of his old man, just as I once did.  But goddamn it, I’d far rather have him boggle in horror at the idea of war, I’d far rather have war be so long forgotten that those decorations are nothing but curiosities of a primitive and violent history, one that his generation has long moved beyond.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

We are not Spartans.

We are not Romans.

We are not Nazis.

We are not, and we should not be, some military society who worships war and glorifies battle as some great heroic ideal and spawns generations of warriors. In America, mothers don’t tell their sons and husbands to come home with their shields or carried upon them.  Or a least they damned well shouldn’t.

We are a free people, we are Americans. For us there should be nothing glorious about war. 

We should honor the soldier, certainly, but we should honor the peacemakers to a far greater degree.

As I’ve said here and elsewhere more times than I can count: war is a dirty horrible business and make no mistake about it. War should be the last resort, when all else has failed and the very safety of liberty is endangered. 

War is hell. War is violent and terrible and immoral. Certainly there may be acts of heroism and valor in war, but there are also endless acts of craven cowardice and ignorant stupidity and wanton violence and vicious cruelty.  War should always be a last resort, embarked upon only under the most dire of necessity and not some goddamned glorious spectacle.

We go to war because we have to, and for no other reason.

While it’s certainly true that, as Orwell and Churchill both said, the nation sleeps snug in its bed only because rough men stand ready to do violence on its behalf, to paint us all as generic “heroes” leaches the word of meaning and power and diminishes those acts that truly are heroic and worthy of great respect.

But it’s much, much worse than that.

To paint all veterans as heroes, superior above other citizens, worthy of worship and compulsory respect, gives lie to the equality of democracy and makes such status enviable.

That, right there, is why Stolen Valor is such a thriving business.

That, right there, is why our society is a brim with military fakers and ersatz war heroes.  They show up at every parade and hang out in front of the VA, they polish their stolen medals to a golden glow and tell stolen war stories replete with glorious battles that exist only in their minds, all with false aw shucks humility and grim steely-eyed false heroism.

And they lap it up, your wide eyed unquestioning admiration, because it feeds their empty souls.

These people are parasites, thriving on our mandatory respect and wide-eyed unconditional hero worship. They exist because of your admiration, without it they would wither and die. But the damage they do is limited and they are typically found out and shamed when their duplicity crosses that of a real veteran.

Far, far worse than the posers, this national hero worship compels the dull-witted and the small and mean to join up for all the wrong reasons.

There is little worse in the ranks, and nothing worse – absolutely nothing – in the officer corps, than those who want to be heroes.

We’ve all encountered them, those of us who served.  The commanders and the lieutenants and the majors who practice their Medal of Honor acceptance speech in front of the shaving mirror each morning, the one that begins, “Thank you Mr. President, I’m sorry all my men were killed, but I’m grateful to accept this award on their behalf…”  We’ve all served under the senior NCO who dreamed of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and the tales of glory he would tell to the doe-eyed girls back home who would then coo over his manly scars and jump ready and eager into bed with a hero.

Those are the kind of people who get other soldiers killed.

They’re not there to defend the country, the oath means nothing to them, they crave only glory and the admiration of a grateful nation.

Writ large, this idea makes war itself desirable, for only in such a crucible can heroism be forged.

And then war becomes the norm instead of the exception.

Worst of all: heroes are not people.

Heroes are symbols, objects to be worshiped and admired and fawned over and then forgotten when new ones come along.

Heroes don’t make mistakes. 

Heroes don’t die from friendly fire. 

Heroes don’t bomb a wedding or a school by accident. 

Heroes don’t get PTSD. Heroes don’t come home broken. Heroes don’t wake up screaming covered in sweat, night after night. Heroes don’t need help. Heroes don’t end up on the street. Heroes don’t wonder where their next meal is coming from, or how they’ll pay the mortgage. Heroes don’t end up addicted to booze and drugs trying to cope with the pain. Heroes don’t mind that you look at them with uneasy fear, wondering if, when, they’re going to snap – because heroes don’t snap.

And, after the war, heroes don’t need education or retraining or help buying a house or easy access to VA medical care. In fact, heroes, well, they don’t need any of those things you promised back when you were terrified and desperate for rough men to do violence on your behalf.

Heroes just need a parade and the cheap thanks of a yellow magnet stuck on the back of your car.

Calling us heroes taints your thinking, it biases your viewpoint no differently than painting all veterans as “baby killers” did a generation ago.

Mostly we veterans are just people who came when called and did our best under terrible circumstances.

If you truly wish to honor those who put their own precious selves between home and war’s desolation, then you wouldn’t call them heroes.

Instead you’d make them obsolete.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

If you want to honor veterans, try living up to the promises you made when you called us to war. That would be a start. Make good on the medical care. Make good on the education. Make good on the support for our families. Pay up and pay up promptly. Hold your elected leaders to account and make them do it or throw the cowardly sons of bitches out of office when they won’t. That would be better than all the empty thanks and the parades and the yellow ribbons.

If you truly wish to honor all the men and women who have served this nation, who have given their lives, who stood ready to do violence in your name, then you would do your utmost to keep our children, indeed all the generations who follow, from having to make the same bitter sacrifice.

Wars are caused by unbridled hate, by intolerant fanaticism, by selfish idealism, by religious extremism, by hunger and poverty and inequality, by bigotry and greed and fear.

If you wish to honor the warrior, truly honor the warrior, then you would do those things which make war less likely.

You would elect leaders who don’t see military action as the first option, or even the second, or the third.

You would elect leaders of reason and judgment, those who are loudly and forcefully reluctant to waste the lives of their fellows and the treasury of their nation.

You would elect leaders who set the example of citizenship, who are willing to listen to each other, to compromise and work together for the good of us all, who don’t go around spewing hate and fear and glassy-eyed fanatical jingoism and simple-minded patriotism.

Yes, you build a strong and well equipped military, of course you do, for defense. You don’t go around finding excuses to use it all the goddamned time. You don’t throw more lives away for political posturing, for imagined slights, for profit, for pride.

More importantly you give equal or greater effort and resources towards those things that make war unnecessary. 

You feed the hungry, you clothe the poor, you heal the sick, you employ the able, you educate the next generation, you pay your taxes, you stop looking at your neighbors as the enemy, you give back, you invest in the future, you dream of the stars, and you remember we’re all in this together. 

If you want to honor veterans, then don’t call them heroes. That’s the easy way out.

If you want to honor veterans, then live up to the ideals they fought to defend.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

I went with the hope he would never have to.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
― Dwight D. Eisenhower, Soldier, General, President


  1. I wish there was a button to click to make this required national reading. Thoughtful, informed, serious and absent the glassy-eyed gushing seen across media outlets this AM. Thank you for THIS service--I hope it is read far and wide today.

    And tomorrow. And the day after that.

    1. Absolutely! The hubris of Empire builders, that power and the threat of it is a solution to all disagreements. When actually the desire to create and maintain an Empire is a sickness. Shelly's poem "Ozymandias" is a warning of what happens to Empires.

    2. I want them to be for ed to read it in fox news

    3. I agree. It should be required reading.

    4. My career-Marine dad came home from Vietnam physically mostly whole (though with chronic back pain from a helicopter crash) but emotionally and spiritually shattered. No such thing then as mental health therapy so he sent me (17, no license) to the local bootlegger weekly to resupply his bourbon and beer habit. He was only 54 when he died from complications of alcoholism.

  2. I was raised in MI. I enlisted late 70s. I did gooder in school and was commissioned mid 80s. I'm trying to find the words to express how much this post means to me. It leaves me with a bit more inner peace knowing I'm not alone feeling this. It leaves me happier knowing there's a person out there who can express it so well. Many thanks.

  3. I honor you as a writer, sir. I've been reading you for years and, IMO, you've earned honor as a writer. I see you as a writer first, FWIW, because that's how I know and respect you.

    1. The best I can do is read what you write, ruminate and try to keep my wits about me. And offer thanks for the day I stumbled upon your writing.

  4. Thanks so much for the reminder, Chief, of what this is all about.

  5. Once again you put into words how I feel. You are correct, I didn't go to war so others could follow...

  6. Thank you for putting into words and making sense of the feelings I have during this time of year.

  7. Ike was also a Texan by birth... Go figure.

    1. Eisenhower considered Abilene Kansas as his home town. He's buried there, at the Eisenhower center.

  8. I am trying to understand why my son is doing Army ROTC. It's not for the schooling--I could cover college costs. It's not to travel the world--I have money set aside for that I could tap.
    He said it's about serving something greater than himself. I'm torn in that we need smart, capable people in the military, but I just don't want it to be him.
    It won't be too long until I have a pic of him in his dress uniform as he sets out after his commissioning. I'll have a lump in my throat and hope in my heart that he will be one of the good guys, not the assholes.

    1. I'm sure he will be one of the good guys. Better to hope that *his commanders* are not the assholes.

    2. Well that's a good start right there; may he fall not far from the tree.

  9. Jim, thank you for your service— as an essayist, as an eloquent voice of experience, reason, and determination.

  10. This is why I follow you. Thank you for inspiring and motivating me.

  11. Powerful stuff, wonderfully stated. As someone else already wrote, thank you for this service. I hope your post is as widely read as it deserves to be.

  12. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world, and I wouldn't do it again for the world."
    Lt. Col. George E. Sessions, USAF (1923-1985)

    His descendants have been builders and teachers, which was how he wanted it.

  13. Much appreciated, Chief - you have eloquently stated what so many of us have felt towards the unmitigated fetishism of military service. Over the years, my children have always given me quizzical looks when I did not identify myself in a public forum as a veteran - I will be sharing this post with them to help them understand why.

  14. My daughter spent five years in the Marine Corps, her husband nine. Today she is Director of Programs for the Veterans Yoga Project. They teach veterans, active duty, and people in their community how to hold space and yoga classes for veterans, first responders, and, of course, active duty service members. I help where I can. They're good people trying to help. Thank you, Jim, for writing this. I'm grateful to those who served, but I hate that they have to gull youngsters and poor people into service. Maybe the age limit should be no one younger that 25 and college educated should be allowed to enlist. I don't know. Thank you for your thoughts and insight.

  15. I second "unknown" above and thank you for your service as a writer.

  16. A lot of what you say about "heroes" applies to health care workers and public health workers too, especially now. Thank you for your truth-telling: THAT is service to the nation and to humanity.

  17. Jim, thank you for stating what most of the time I find myself unable to do.

    Frosty, former CTO2

  18. Thank you, Jim, for an excellent essay. I’m a vet who served two tours in the Air Force and got out when they wouldn’t let me cross train to be a medic. Instead, I went to nursing school and got my RN. Yes, I’m proud of my military service, but I am more proud of my nursing career. I take the veteran discount, when offered, but I’d rather businesses offered a nursing discount.

  19. I hate this "holiday." I feel fake and uncomfortable when I offer unsolicited thanks and praise, then I feel ashamed of myself for not feeling eternally grateful. I do encounter so many that expect the adoration, have had family throw me out of their home because I did not hate the "enemy" their son fought. Such confusion on my part. People yell freedom, that's what we fought for, but yet they refuse to accept following the established rules. You bring a great deal of sense to my confusion. Thanks for your essay.

  20. Great work! I always appreciate your writing. I am a proud Army Brat. I was raised and educated at base schools. My father was a 30-year Army Veteran (1947-77). He served in Post-war Japan twice, did 2 tours in Korea,and 3 in Vietnam. He never discussed how he earned his Bronze Star or Pulple Heart. His greatest disappointment after he retired was the slow incremental withdrawal of benefits that were promised to him post-retirement. The military with its bloated budget does near to nothing for the active-duty,non-coms and Veterans. They are throw away soldiers.

    All the parades and kudos are meaningless hot air to a soldier or veteran struggling to feed and house himself and his family.

    Thank you, C

  21. Once again, dead on. Your capacity to accurately define terms and express ideas really sends your message home. I'm deeply moved by this piece.

  22. I appreciate this thoughtful reflection.

  23. Thank you so much for this essay. I feel your message strongly.

  24. Thank you, Mr. Wright. I wish all the 'Thank You For Your Service' people, could read this.

  25. A solemn and needed essay to ground us, as you so often do, in reality. For that, I thank you. And if not directly stated, but certainly implied, is that every person in the military is an individual, so to lump them all together is ridiculous. There are those who are commendable and those who are detestable. And all the rest in between. My husband was in the Army in the late 60s, drafted right after finishing up at community college. He didn't "join" in a noble gesture of patriotism. But, he did his job (luckily in Germany instead of Viet Nam since he had automotive training and they needed mechanics to work on the tanks there), didn't screw up much, and came home. He doesn't call attention to it or expect (or receive) any acknowledgment for his time in the military. I think that's the same for a lot of the men and women who were in the armed forces.

  26. "Heroes" is too often used to paint validity on undeserving causes.
    To stiffle debate on the thing we should most question.
    "Heroes" become a shadow guard around those at fault.

    I thank the soldier here and the writer he became.

  27. Thank you for doing your best to make sure that the world is a better place for all of us.

  28. Jim, thank you for this piece. It encapsulates how my late father (Korean conflict; Bronze Star) felt about his own military service. He was pleased to believe that his military service enabled his kids to become a writer, an engineer, an accountant, and an artist, all of whom respect the military and all of whom have taken Eisenhower's warning to heart.

  29. I don't believe in heroes. They don't exist. Ordinary men and women when circumstances call for it perform heroic acts. A person recognizes a need and executes. Looking for heroes is a way of absolving ourselves from acting. Deadpool, however crudely expanding on Colossus' admonition to him, got it right. "Four or five moments. That's all it takes to be a hero. People think you wake up a hero, brush your teeth a hero, ejaculate into a soap dispenser a hero. But now, being a hero, it's only a few moments. Few moments doing the
    ugly stuff no one else will do."

  30. I usually just offer "welcome home" Seems to fit. Heartfelt.

  31. Chief, thank you for this! You have a real skill in capturing most of my own jumbled thoughts. I did 4 tours in the Tonkin Gulf and came back through the San Francisco airport to be spat upon and mocked. Now I'm sometimes called a hero for simply doing my duty. It makes my head spin!

  32. As a veteran myself (US Navy E-5, 83-89), I understand both positions only too well. Personally, the only "service" I performed by enlisting was to do a job many others in this country couldn't, or, worse still, wouldn't do. Sure, I had some selfish reasons for doing so (learn a trade without going to college, earn money for myself), but I also needed to do something for the greater good. My family has a history of military service, from my dad in Korea to 4 uncles in WWII (2 Marines, 1 Navy, and 1 Army Air Corps), so there was always a niggling voice in my head while I was in high school telling me that this was what I was going to do.

    And I am somewhat ambivalent about the whole "Thank You for your service" mantra that seems to have infiltrated civilian speak these past 20 years; on the one hand, I smile and say, "You're welcome" as I make my purchase (because that seems to be the most common time the phrase is uttered), and on the other, it annoys me that so many, through this little platitude, seek to make amends for so many years of neglect and outright disdain for members of the military.

    Until recently, I worked in the retail field as a member of management, and have seen the instituting of this "thank them for their service" requirement into the training courses for retail associates; I have also been a point person for explaining the entire concept to new hires, so they don't make light of it. At my last store, a Lowe's here in New Hampshire, I was the only senior manager who was also a veteran; so, of course, all things dealing with vets and military service came to me for my approval.

    And that was fine, because at least that particular company was trying to honor those who made the choice to wear the uniform and stand the watch, even if it felt forced at times.

    But, what really annoys me about this drift towards fetishizing the military has been the change in language to describe those who wear the uniform: the post-9/11 term "warfighter" that replaced all the other words we used to use. The term itself places the emphasis on conducting war as the main reason for serving, instead of defending the nation from outside aggression. Add in the term "homeland" and we are now in authoritarianism's shadow.

    Where did we go wrong? Probably after WWII, when American exceptionalism became our birthright and our economic power eclipsed the rest of the world. We became the "defenders of freedom" and then went about inflicting it on anyone who we thought should have it (whether they wanted it or not). And so we gradually stopped being defenders, using our force of arms only in limited engagements, and became "warfighters", flexing our military muscle at the drop of a hat.

    It's time to put away the "warfighters" and begin deploying the defenders again.

  33. John Adams: I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

    So many never seem to make it past his first generation of study.

  34. So right-on, Jim. Thanks for putting into words how many of us veterans feel about our "service" to this great Country. I'll add that many, including some veterans, have forgotten that real EVIL exists in this world. For those that have forgotten, just pull up a YouTube video of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
    D.Gregory, USNR
    (1965 to 1976)

  35. As someone who worked alongside the military for over 35 years, I don't thank them. I'm the one that has had to clean up the messes the senior officers and enlisted make. I'm the one they turn to train the junior military in sophisticated equipment and other skills, because those senior have moved to administrative duties and frankly never had the ability. I'm the one that has gone to hardship and high threat posts and actually done the work to prevent war as much as possible. The junior military are usually a bunch of scary smart, eager people, but the good ones realize quickly the toxic environment and leave. A few good ones stay and those I watch out for. But as a civilian, I'm viewed as a government parasite, a bureaucrat. I wonder how many people would join if they had to work 30+ years vice 20. I don't want thanks, but I also don't want to be castigated.

  36. This is powerful and written in a way only a master craftsman could pen. Thanks Jim. You are one of my favorite human beings. See you on the flip side.

  37. My grandfather was a Marine. He made E-5 twice, and still got out as an E-4.

    I was Army. I made E-5 twice, and the second time managed to keep it until I got out.

    On paper, neither of us are heroes.

    But in the real world, he was one of seventeen people from his battalion to survive his brief stay on Mt. Suribachi, while I never fired a shot in anger.

    ...which is why, when someone says "Thank you for your service", I say "you probably shouldn't thank me until you know what I did".

  38. I am always uncomfortable when someone "thanks" me for my service, as though it was something extraordinary. For me, it was a job, a means to have a roof over my head and food on my table. I've never felt that the absence of recognition, the lack of a parade, was a "right" due me. Who the hell wants to waste more time standing and marching in a parade? Definitely not me!

    If someone wants to thank me for my service, the best way they can do it is the same as I did, pay it forward. Donate to a local charity, teach children that fighting may sometimes be the only way to settle a dispute, but that there are other things that can be done before it comes to that, be involved with your neighbors and your community.

    Today, there are al kinds of freebies being offered to Veterans because of their service. May I ask that if you, the Veteran, partake of those freebies, to remember to give a generous tip to those that are serving and waiting on you. Paying it forward.

  39. Thank you for this essay. It shoukd be required reading for every politician.

  40. A spot on treatise, you encapsulate what many should be hearing.

  41. Well said, Jim. My dad was a WWII Navy veteran. He never talked much about his experience in the Mediterranean, never was a member of the VFW, etc. He moved on with his life as a civilian. My father-in-law never wore a uniform but was also involved in the war effort as a chemical engineer working in Oak Ridge, TN, on a part of the Manhattan Project. Neither of them would have thought of themselves as heroes. They were doing their duty to the country at a time of world-wide crisis.

  42. Thank you Jim ....as always, an excellent and thought provoking piece.

  43. My grandfather flew bombers in WWII, was shot down, imprisoned, and escaped to join the polish resistance. He died in a crash of an early jet plane as an Air Force reservist after the war. One of his brothers was also shot down, but didn't manage to escape, and the other died on the beaches of Normandy. My brother was in the reserves, and we were both cadets in our life. I have cousins, uncles, and friends that have served.

    None of them view war as admirable, or themselves as heroes.

    I encountered the poem "Dulce et Decorum est" in high school. We'd been exposed to "In Flanders Fields" since grade school. Pilot friends had "High Flight" on their walls. In university, I did an analysis of "death of a ball turret gunner", and "an Irish Airman foresees his death". Every one of these poems were written by serving or recently retired soldiers, some of whom did not live to see the end of their war.

    There is nothing more important to hear and understand than the words of a veteran who warns against war. I thank you for this essay, and I honour your time in the military. I hope that my children will never need to follow our family into the military, but I know they may.

  44. Very well written and clearly from the heart. You're never going to agree 100% with someone else but you can find common ground and build from there if you're willing to try.

  45. Great essay, Jim. I wish my dad, a WWII vet, were alive to read it. I'm sure he'd agree with every word.

  46. I don't often comment here, but reading the above brought this quote to mind and it seemed to fit with what you were saying. “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

    ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

  47. I would like to thank you for your time, skills, experience, and contributions during your career in the Navy. And for your writing, your sense of humor, your recipes, photos of all the dogs and ShopCat (and even Stupid), your artwork carved from wood and eggshells, your movie reviews, your whiskey reviews, and your appreciation for Mark Knopfler's music. So Thank You, Jim.

  48. You put in words what I was thinking today while I listened to someone talking about all of us veterans were "heroes". He mentioned how many missions he flew in a B-52 in Nam, I kept thinking how much death and destruction that caused. Thank you for this timely post - John (US Navy 68-72)

  49. If only. Well done as always.

  50. Thank you, Jim, very thought provoking. Thinking about those I know and knew who were soldiers, I find that I would be nervous of anyone who fought a war and /wasn't/ significantly impacted by it. I have encountered one or two - they *are* proud and feel -no- horror or remorse or emotional pain. That is scary. I can't imagine killing, and seeing your buddies injured or killed, and not being deeply affected by it.

  51. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts. I’ll use your blog to get some conversations started. I also appreciated my TI making things clear to us as he yelled in the wee hours as we stood at attention, “You’re here to KILL people and BREAK THINGS!”

  52. Great words and very insightful! Thanks! Peace to you and yours!

  53. When someone 'thanks me for my service' I mostly ignore it but I never think of it as some unwelcomed gift from someone who didn't know that I just carried a rifle through that short perfect window of relative peace decades ago, but rather choose to believe it's just their declaration to themselves that despite our failings overall they're thankful for what we've accomplished as a nation together and maybe they recognize it could be way worse.

  54. In the waning months of WWII, my underaged, flat-footed, hollow-chested, nearsighted father lied about his age and enlisted. Amazingly, he made it through basic training and was put in the Chaplain corps, then spent three weeks at Ft. Dix before Nagasaki and Hiroshima were vaporized and he was demobbed. He never considered himself a veteran because several high-school friends never made it back from France or the Pacific.

    My great-uncle Geoffrey Halliday Hewson was killed in France on July 20th, 1918 soon after arriving at the front. He is buried at the Marfaux British Cemetery in Marfaux, Marne, France. He died in Flanders fields, memorialized by these lines of John McCrae:

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

  55. "Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later."

    - Zoe Washburn (Gina Torres), "Serenity"

  56. Thank you for this. It's wonderful.

  57. I have been having thoughts along these lines, but have been reluctant to post them as I have little direct experience with the military. Coming so beautifully and powerfully from a veteran such as yourself is much easier for me to share. The US military has done and amazing PR job in the past 30-40 years to purge the public's memory of Vietnam, and even keep up the hype through the atrocities and futility of the past 20 years.

  58. Once again, excellent! This says it all. Thanks, Jim.

  59. Beautifully put. As someone above said, your writing is what makes you a hero to me. You say the things that need to be said.

  60. I have long felt that the true heroes of our society are the men and women who go out of their way to do the right thing but expect no reward or recognition for their service, regardless of where or how they provided that service. Yes, our military service people deserve respect for that service, but so do the ditch diggers and plumbers and carpenters, et al, who keep us being productive members of society.

  61. Amen, brother. We all had our reasons for joining. We did our jobs. Let's leave it at that.

    Paul Cooper, former QM3/SS


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