Is This How We Thank Our Veterans?


We don’t learn from history.  America sounds like it is starving with several stories on food bank cuts that have just started.  A lot of people seem to skimp and save to be able to eat.  Some of my marijuana patients tell me it is the only medical care they can afford.  One asked me where the nearest food bank was, and if I knew any good ones.

Vintage Veterans PostMy Grandmother-Of-Blessed-Memory had a couple of raspberry bushes in the back yard, and some very aggressive strawberries that sent runners under the sidewalk to the garbage can, pushing up the already fragile cracked concrete. This infuriated my Mother-Of-Blessed-Memory who always had to do such repairs, as my father of blessed memory had “such delicate hands.” At least that is what his mother would lament as she stroked them.  He had an honored place in our household for being a composer and choir director and music teacher and supporting the lot of us.

There was also a cherry tree and an apricot tree.  My purple-thumbed inept childhood hands tried to plant some decorative flowers in the front, but it was clear I did not have the “knack” my grandmother had.  My mother said we could buy what we needed at the local grocery store, but my grandmother told me you just could not depend on such things.

My grandmother had moved into the house of the cracking cement in 1932 when she came from the village of Linke near Kiev (then Russia), walked out on an arranged marriage with a baker and the entire city of New York — which was too dirty, she decided.  Besides, life was rough in the Big Apple in those days — sleeping on two dining room chairs side by side in a tenement (Danke, meine Bobie).  So she scrambled to Boston where she married a prosperous — if small-time — Jewish grocer at the same address that is now New England Medical Center in downtown Boston.

She planted the garden when the world was at War, something she had the incredible insight to tell me back then did not seem to have ended the way it was supposed to.  She was convinced — I mean dead set convinced — that she had helped at least to end WWII by planting a victory garden, which had amazingly taken on immortality for as long as I had lived in the house.

She told me Eleanor Roosevelt had planted one in the White House garden (true as far as I can figure) and even though the food industry had discouraged it, people did this to get a sense of personal contribution to the war effort.

How quaint that people now consider this the stuff that online museums are made of.

My grandmother admitted that she had not been responsible for the apricot or cherry trees, but they were one of the reasons she bought the house.

It says something about her that she chose fruits, and although my brother and I got to eat them, she liked to make a little wine.  Although my father would say horrible things about how strong it could get, my Auntie Sadie-Of-Blessed memory actually tasted it once and told him that it was so weak as to be “cute.”  I understand what she meant as this phrase could describe my only attempt to make wine some years later while living in Kansas when someone gave me a gift of more fruits than I could ever consume.

Both Aunt Sadie and I joined the military, influenced largely by my grandmother’s patriotism  When you are pretty much kicked out of another country and end up in America you appreciate America — a lot.

In the military, as part of the medical corps in the Army, I remember patriotic placards with the mottoes about our mission in conserving the fighting strength of America.

I thought I would want to write something inspirational for Veterans’ day.  I have done that many times, covering everything from visiting to where the armistice was signed, the state of the Veterans Affairs Medical Services, the state of Veterans, and my idealistic beliefs in the Founding Fathers.

I have said little about the great personal trauma of in-processing into the military, being asked what I wanted written on my dog tags, and deciding if the U.S. Army was going to let me get killed in an Arab country, they would have to respect my faith enough to find a Rabbi to bury me.  I had them write “Jewish.”

I knew then it was tough for me, enlisting at the age of 32.  I wondered what it was like for an 18 year old.  As I cared for many, I learned how much more frail they were than they wanted to appear to be.

This is the kicker —  I think we are starving our active duty military.  The ones whom I pledged a while ago to help conserve as fighting strength.

Cut backs in the food stamp program are bad enough.  Oh, I have seen young mothers use them on fast food which has more refined sugar than a sugar refinery.  But, they’ve got enough problems.  So they keep their kids addicted to who-knows-what colorings and food additives to conserve the kiddies ADD and ADHD and fighting strength that must be keeping lots of teachers and their assistants employed.

Sorry for the digression, but kids gotta eat something.

A private in the Army sure doesn’t make much, and with the food stamp cutbacks they are going to eat less.  I don’t know what percentage of them have the combination of physical strength and animal cunning to make enough rank to buy food.  I remember from when I shopped at one, a Post Exchange has some nice imported stuff from wherever we got bases, mostly it is over-processed American stuff.

I remember the sign over the Oklahoma City VA that said “Through These Doors go America’s Heroes.”  I loved the old guys, for women were rarer back then.

One recent woman veteran from Iraq actually asked me what it was like being in the Army in “my day.”  Frankly I don’t think the Army had a clue how to deal with women, and the many cases of assault upon women are proof of that.  I told her things were “A little bit better than Molly Pitcher but not much.”

You can guess what she said next:  Who is Molly Pitcher?”

Surely YOU remember, don’t you? The (alleged; who can prove?) wife of a gunner who took his place at a cannon in the Battle of Monmouth New Jersey (1754) was (allegedly) the way I heard it, one of the first women to fight in the Revolutionary War.

She (allegedly) started by bringing water to the troops.

“Conserving the fighting strength.”

I identified with this woman.  My woman veteran was amazed when I told her.

I smiled as I introduced her as a veteran to the guy at the front desk at a clinic I cover.  He shook his head.  I shook her hand and thanked her profusely for her service, “to this great nation.”

“Dr. G. sure loves her veterans,” he said.

“Damned right I do,” was the best rejoinder I could come up with.

So many images flashed through my head when he said that.  I especially loved the older guys, Korea, WWII.  Singing “As the Caissons go Rolling Along” in a waiting room with the guys in the Oklahoma City VA.  Watching in amazement as the guys enjoyed making –and eating–corn meal mush in a Wichita VA Clinic, reliving the vigor of their active duty days.

As a marijuana doctor in California I have cried with brave Vietnam Veterans whose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder makes them relive the horrors of war on a regular basis. They come for marijuana, sometimes against medical advice from the (federally funded) VA, which may in some pockets of humanity, still consider it just another legal drug, while others try to use it as a developing drug for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, wanting to rake in profits somehow from those souls who now seem to find pretty good relief from the whole herb.

Yes, I love those guys.

I have learned to love military spouses, too, the one who come with their husbands to appointments are often the only ones I know.  Nobody has any way to qualify or quantify their contribution to “conserving the fighting strength.”

A couple of times when I thank someone for their service to “our great nation,” they seem amused.  Sometimes they are a little surprised to learn I am a veteran, too.  But once they believe me, they understand (but rarely reciprocate, strangely) why I am grateful.  More than that, they know that I have been there.  Even though I have miraculously avoided combat (Believe me, America is better off because of this) I know what it feels like the moment you are “in process” and they ask you what kind of funeral you want.  Many of the veterans I talk to remember exactly that moment.

As if I could not find enough things the institutions of America have done to disrespect and fail to value those who have put their lives on the line, we have a new one, now.

Food stamp cutbacks may be starting to starve the lower ranks of the active duty military.

America needs fixing, bad.  Not gluing of cracks, but new ways of thinking.  We have been #1 and I think we can be, again.  We can rise like a phoenix from the ashes.  There are good and original brains here, but we are such an unwieldy mess we have long stifled them.  We need to create a new atmosphere that honors the individual, encourages achievement, that is open.

I can only think of the promise of the Founding Fathers.  I can think of when I first read, from Ben Franklin’s pamphlet “Information To Those who would Remove to America,” that America was a place unlike Europe, where people were valued not for who they were but for what they could do.

I knew in my grandmother’s Europe I had been twice excluded from many opportunities, by being Jewish and by being female.  As for here — well, I am not exactly done yet.

As for those who chose or otherwise turned up in national service, they deserve lots more than my handshake.  Adequate care and benefits, jobs and opportunities, lots of things they have not quite got yet.

Sometimes after you are done fighting the enemy, you need to fight your own authorities to get your due.  It’s all right, really.

Yes, I sure love my veterans.

You’re damned right I do. If you want more food than you can afford, I would suggest a great American tradition.

Plant a “Victory Garden.”


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