Veterans Day turns the hearts of Americans to wounded soldiers, the war dead and the deployed. It's a day marked with ceremonies, tribute programs and military concerts. But for many families, caring about the nation's soldiers — both the living and the dead — is a daily journey of the heart.
President Barack Obama kicked off the day by inviting some veterans and their families to have breakfast at the White House. Later, he was to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, according to a story in USA Today.
It quoted the president's weekend radio address: "Thank you to that greatest generation who fought island by island across the Pacific and freed millions from fascism in Europe. Thank you to the heroes who risked everything through the bitter cold of Korea and the stifling heat of Vietnam. And thank you to all the heroes who have served since, most recently our 9/11 generation of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan."
There are a number of moving stories detailing lives impacted by military service. Among them:
Paula Davis and Gina Barnhurst are discussing whether Davis should get a dog. They're friends who met through circumstance, their soldier-children buried close to each other at Arlington National Cemetery. The Washington Post article by Greg Jaffe describes the evolution of their grief:
"The longest stretch of war in American history recedes, and this is what remains. Davis, 58, has been visiting her son’s grave here in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60 almost every Sunday afternoon since 2006. In the first years after her son was killed in Afghanistan, she raced to the cemetery to see his name etched into the headstone and sit among parents and spouses experiencing the same all-consuming sadness. Wives lay face down in the new grass covering their husbands’ graves. Children worked nearby on crayon drawings."
“I just couldn’t wait to get here,” Davis told Jaffe. “I had to see Justin’s name.”
Jaffe continued: "Today Section 60, where the dead from the Iraq and Afghan wars are buried, is a different place. There is still grief here. But Davis and her friends laugh more than they cry when they visit the cemetery. Section 60 is a place where Davis can talk about her son without worrying that she is making her family or co-workers sad or uncomfortable. It’s a place where she can spend time with women, like Barnhurst, who have become her closest friends. They mark birthdays and anniversaries together in the cemetery. They talk about dogs, home renovations, exercising more."
The gunner's tale
This Veterans Day is the first that Charles Anthony Mangan's family knows what happened to him. They knew the young Missoula, Mont., native died, killed in action in World War II on Feb. 15, 1945, along with others in a B-24 bomber that went down over eastern Germany. His body was returned to them, but they could not find details of what had happened, according to an article in The Missoulian about one family's search for information.
Kim Briggerman wrote that the search spanned not just decades, but generations. Mangan's older brother spent his life seeking answers, and when he died, his son and the soldier's namesake took over the search for information about the young gunner. Recently, they learned what happened and that a couple of soldiers on board the airplane had survived the crash. They learned that a memorial was recently erected in front of a cottage in the Bavarian forest where the plane crashed, and they finally heard the details of what happened from eyewitnesses.
Lots of soldiers
West Point and military service are a family tradition for the family of John and Elaine S. Zavage, whose three children and son-in-law all graduated from the academy. Two of them are now active-duty soldiers, according to a story about the family by Trib Total Media.
Wrote Ron Paglia, "The military experiences of the Zavage children have given their parents a deep appreciation of those who serve their nation."
“I'm not sure that many people would understand what our young men and women in the military and their families go through,” Elaine Zavage told him. “Our gratitude to all of them is perpetuated on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and every day. They deserve nothing less.”
Lost, after the war
The Bangor Daily News features a blog post about a soldier's suicide "after I thought the war was over." The soldier had served with the blog author's son in Iraq, providing security. She asked his mother to tell the poignant story.
That mother, Linda Braun, wrote, "I am the mother who is still grieving. I am the mother who lost her son to PTSD. I am the mother with all the unanswered questions. My son Daniel lost his battle to PTSD on May 15th, 2013, five days before his birthday. Instead of celebrating with him, I was making arrangements for his funeral. Daniel served 9 yrs., 3 months, and 13 days in the United States Air Force, Security Forces. He did 1 tour in South Korea and 2 tours in Iraq. He was hand chosen along with 12 other brave men to for a special security forces mission. He loved serving our country. There were times when people would thank him for his service and he would reply 'don’t thank me; I’m just doing my job just like everyone else does their job.'”
The young man, at the time of his death, was living with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, and "very, very bad nightmares."
Braun ends with a plea directly to other soldiers and veterans: "I can never tell him again how proud I am to be his mother and him my son. I ask each and every one of you who is suffering from some kind of combat issue, whether it be PTSD, depression, anxiety, or nightmares to ask for help and don’t stop asking until you get it. You deserve it, you earned it. Daniel deserved it, he earned it. Your life is too precious. People do care, I care. Thank you to all the military men and women out there who are serving and who have served for my freedom. God Bless.”
The Daily Hampshire Gazette has another story of loss but details how the Kevin and Joyce Lucey family has taken specialized training to help other soldiers and their families. The Luceys' son had returned from war nearly a decade ago when, at age 23, he hanged himself.
Kevin and Joyce Lucey, as well as their daughter Debra, became part of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Peer Support Network to help other families, as they were helped when Jeffrey Lucey died.
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: Loisco