Gray, cool, misty, Saturday — it all added up to perfect conditions for lounging around in bed, which I did for a while, but fortunately Koko got me up and out so I could complete a propone run, which was required in order to enjoy cup of tea, just before they closed off the road for the Veterans’ Day parade.
Flags lined the highway, while marching units and troops in dress uniforms assembled at All Saints Church. On the side streets, classic cars, hot rods and old military vehicles waited to pull out onto the road.
It was a poignant scene, both because it was small-scale and folksy, Kauai-style, and yet so earnest and sincere in its patriotism, which is a sentiment I’ve never felt, but can respect in others, like the old veteran who had made his way to the Triangle Park in a motorized chair and staked out a solitary front row seat on the bench there.
I’m always struck by how the universe works; just as I was writing this, I got a call from the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation asking for a donation to buy care packages for veterans in hospitals. You know, basic stuff like razor blades, magazines and socks, which one would think the government, with its gazillion-dollar “defense” budget, could provide.
I said yes, because while I’m not patriotic, I do feel for all the guys who were part of that particular boondoggle and now are struggling, like so many of the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, with PTSD, physical disabilities, substance abuse, homelessness and alienation. Our government is always eager to send them off to do its imperialistic bidding, but all too often ignores them or screws them once they get home.
I’ve done a number of stories on guys fighting for disability payments, their lives a fricking mess not so much because of the war experience, but the post-war trauma and degrdation of dealing with the VA. Unfortunately, their stories are so common that most publications aren’t interested unless they’re especially compelling. But let me tell you, they all are.
The first one I ever wrote was probably 25 years ago, about a veteran who participated in the atomic bomb tests that were conducted in the 1950s in the Nevada desert. He was among the troops sent in to see what kind of damage the bomb had inflicted on the target, after watching the explosion on the sidelines. He said he'd used his hands to cover his eyes from a flash so bright he could see every bone in his fingers.
“And then I went home and threw my uniform in the wash with the baby’s diapers,” said the vet, who 30 years later, in his 50s, was suffering from numerous cancers and fighting the VA over his medical bills. They wanted to blame his radiation exposure on his job at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, and he’d come to me, hoping I could write a story to alert other vets to the situation.
I’ve thought of him every now and then over the years, along with the other veterans I’ve written about, including one here on Kauai who suffered chronic pain and was living the most marginal existence on partial disability payments, condemned to poverty by a government he'd served. I can’t remember any of their names, but I can recall their faces, their suffering and struggles.
So when I passed by the pre-parade decorations and festivities today, I had mixed feelings and wondered, can we honor our soldiers, our veterans, without glorifying nationalism, imperialism, war?