This Memorial Day, Thank The Live Veterans And Honor The Dead


I am a veteran.

Military. American. U.S. Army.  Medical Corps.

This is truth.

WWI poster Gen Pershing and Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam Urges Gen Pershing On From France To Germany

Along with being a fairly knowledgeable physician with over 30 years experience, it still seems incredible and unbelievable to at least some of my patients.  It is not in their experience to know women who appear on the surface to be feminine and attractive who have been in the military.  Admittedly, these things were never brought up until I lost a massive amount of weight (half my body weight) but there they are.

Every time I get a chance, I thank a veteran with a handshake for defending – in these very words — “this great nation.”  This seems to be a custom that has crested, for I have not met anyone else who does this lately.

Even though I tell people I am a veteran, too, almost nobody thanks me back.

It’s all right.  Sex role perceptions die slowly.  Feminism needs to go farther than I thought.  It’s all right.

Maybe when people are used to professional women — which not all are by any means, especially in some of the less cosmopolitan regions of this nation — where I seem to sometimes turn up.

Veteranhood is a strange status.  It turns up free medical care less often than once it did, as our government economizes.

Most of what I learned about being a veteran I learned from years of working as a junior academic psychiatrist in Department of Veterans’ Affairs medical centers.  I do not know if the strange alliance between academics and caring for veterans still exists.  I was one of a precious few people so placed who actually was a veteran.  I bonded well with patients, as we all agreed the military was not a particularly “fun” place to be.

Many of them had started at 18 and had little or no idea of what they were in for.  I, like many who were at least a bit older, was in there (at least superficially) because my professional life was in a snag and I wanted to advance status and credentials.

More particularly and deep in my heart, I was one of a few idealistic ones.  My Grandmother-of-Blessed-Memory had left what was then Russia when the Cossacks took the family silver and she knew it was not a good place to be Jewish.

She loved America, always sang along with Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” — in more Yiddish (Judeo-German) than English — but she meant it.  She also meant it when she told me to “take care of America” and that is why I joined the Medical Corps, really.

Being in the military means taking orders with which one may not personally agree.  I still believe the direct command to take the only physician in that hospital who happened to be female (me) and have her take care of women patients with obstetrical and gynecological concerns was the stupidest order ever given, but I did it.

After all, I was a neurosurgeon at the time, so my expertise was at the opposite end of the body.  But I shared what is now euphemistically called “Lady Parts” with the female patients, so I was assigned.

Yes, I had some basic study on OB/GYN in medical school including a 9-week rotation, but no real serious specific experience or training in same.  I tackled it as I do everything — with more crammed studying than any exam ever required in my life.  I am convinced, even now, I did it well.

When you are in the military you give up a bunch of civil rights.  You are subject in abstract to the needs of the nation. In reality you are subject to the direction of the person above — the commanding officer — which is often less than inspired.

I remember once sitting though a lesson, as a “gifted and talented” person, about how to work for someone who was stupider than me, but the Army was much worse.  I left as soon as it was possible, going on to academics where I was a “better fit.”

The 18 year old service enlistees were often in shock — sometimes so much so that I was called upon to get them “Chaptered out” of the military (involuntarily discharged for personality disorders).

Many could not adjust to the routine, the discipline; those who did, had to become respectful and passive, dependent upon orders, the key to their survival in an alien world for which they could only be trained by something I can only call “brainwashing” — chanting as they jumped from planes, pride in how far they could push their bodies.

It is well known that those in the agony of combat survive not by spouting ideology, but by bonds to their buddies.

It is not generally known how deep the toll of combat is psychologically.  Denial of its existence, inadequate identification and treatment, do not make either Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury any easier to bear.

In the days I worked with Veterans Affairs, fully one half of those who left the military disabled left for a psychiatric disability.  Few seemed “curable” and few seemed able to adjust without problem.  I did the best for them I could, always.  Most had joined without anything that approached an idea of what they were putting at risk.  Not just their lives, but long term health, productivity, and happiness.

I thank a veteran every chance I get.  Anybody and everybody should.  No matter what you think of politics, which has been absurdly simplified to hawk and dove, right and left, the sacrifice of the individual veteran cannot be overstated.

I always thought I should be some kind of a pacifist, and every veteran should, but it never happened.  Perhaps both bodies and minds have been so broken this is near impossible.  Nobody knows like the combat veterans — or empathic folks like me who actually try to treat them — the excruciating brutality of war.
Darwinian evolution does not seem to have eliminated this behavior from human possibilities.  Instead, it just keeps coming.

Maybe because the people who make the decisions just haven’t been there, or even close to the traumas the veterans bring home.  When they have been cunning enough and well-trained enough to manage to come back home.  After all, I am not talking about those who get “soft” duty through “connectons.”  I am talking about the ugly stuff.

Please thank any and all veterans you know.  It is free, and it is really great when you can spread good feelings, free.  Thank veterans for defending this great nation.

Even if they were in “support positions” instead of combat and spent active duty time in a hospital or a kitchen, they put themselves on the line and should be thanked.

You may even want to thank veterans for remaining alive.

Remember respectfully those who could not.

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