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Grizzled Faces


The Veterans Administration receives much well-deserved criticism, but I value it anyway and chose to receive my own medical care there.  Veterans are only 7% of the U.S. population, a all-time low.  Yet, inside the VA system, it is 100%, and I enjoy the company.  Veterans tend to treat each other with respect and care.  It is not an “I love you” kind of care and more of a “how can I help you, man” kind of care.

Whenever you generalize, you are likely to be both factually wrong and morally wrong.  All people, even veterans, are unique.  Nonetheless, I will generalize about the differences I’ve observed in the generations of veterans.

The World War II vets were younger when they entered the war and usually did so with “unit integrity”.  That means they trained as a unit, went to war as a unit, and returned from the war as a unit.  They were indeed a band-of-brothers.  Their initial mindset was one of shock at the enormity of the war.  Upon discharge, they seized “their American Dream” of a house, a family, and a pension.  Today, they bask in an ocean of accolades and gratitude.

The Korean vets are the invisible vets of an especially brutal war.  You seldom run across them in the VA system, probably because they are few, relative to other war veterans.  They were older than WWII or Vietnam vets when they entered war.  They were step-vets of the WWII vets and followed in their footsteps upon discharge.  Today, they have contented themselves in the reflected glory of the WWII vets.

The Vietnam vets were also young but rotated in-and-out of units, with no unit integrity and no opportunity to bond with others — no band-of-brothers for them.  Their initial mindset was one of “what am I doing here?”  Upon discharge, they used too many drugs and drank too much alcohol, before reluctantly getting on that American Dream stuff.  Today, they often simmer in resentment and betrayal.

The Iraq vets and the Afghanistan vets are very different.  They were older when they entered war.  They did enjoy some unit integrity and found some brotherhood in their units.  Because they have often served multiple tours, they have a more resolute grimness than other veterans.   Their attitude is professional — maybe too professional.  They know the horror of war and have accepted it.  It has become part of them — part of who they are and what they are.  They resent the hollowness of the perfunctory “thank you for your service.”  I worry about these vets and am not surprised PTSD is killing so many of them every day.

My father always told me that “a person has to live in their own time.”  The same is true for veterans, but the times may have changed the veterans.  The Korea vets and the Vietnam vets will never get the respect they deserve, but I pray the Iraq vets and the Afghanistan vets get the medical care they need and deserve.

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