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The Good Life: Memorial Day more than barbeque
June 02, 2016 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz
Welcome to summer! I don’t know about you, but this weekend was the first opportunity I’d had to work in the yard. Clearing up the debris tangled in my rosebushes from nearby cornfields and prairie was no picnic and my arms have the scratches to show for it, despite long sleeves and gloves.

We’re still recovering from the April 20 fire on the farm. It will probably take a while before it all sinks in.

You’d be surprised how deliberate shopping becomes when there’s no garage in which to store things. Before making purchases, we think long and hard about where said object will live.

Fortunately, we have a basement, and we’re in no rush.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: The Morton building my grandfather had erected was $4,000 in 1989. These days? How’s $18,000? Now that’s inflation!

As you know, last weekend was Memorial Day. Though I worked in the yard on Monday, thoughts floated through my mind about Memorial Day’s meaning. I’ll never forget the year the Citizen had to redo all the Memorial Day ads before press time because a young designer knew little about the holiday. To her, Memorial Day was a welcome to summer, celebrated with barbeques and hanging out with family and friends. “Happy Memorial Day” is a message I couldn’t allow in the paper.

So what does Memorial Day mean to me? Its changed a bit since I met my dear husband Frank, a veteran who served 11 months in Afghanistan. As a field historian, Frank didn’t pull a trigger, but he carried a rifle everywhere he traveled. Relying more on his pen, notebook and camera, Frank dispatched to military posts where he would interview combat soldiers fresh off their missions. He would listen as men and women in our military shared the heartbreaking stories of horror, death and wrenching loss. He stood in harm’s way, and suffered a concussion. He now deals with the continuing emotional toll.

Union General William T. Sherman said in a speech given in 1880, “Some of you young men think that war is all glamour and glory, but let me tell you, boys, it is all hell!”

While I haven’t suffered the hell of war, Frank certainly has. Worse yet, the hell continues for veterans across the country.

In Frank’s most recent mission, he covered the Memorial Day ceremony at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery. It was an assignment like most others, camera bag packed, nose on for the story, Frank left in his finest suit. When he got there, unexpectedly, the memories of those traumatized soldiers came flooding back. Story after story, the eerily calm descriptions of horrific events too awful to print here as told by young men and women still in shock, of the things they had to do, of friends they had loved and tried to save, exploded in his mind like shrapnel. Then the depression set in.

Later in the day, Frank suffered a tight chest and labored breathing. A headache ensued. We cancelled our plans for the evening.

It wasn’t until the next morning when Frank told me what happened at the cemetery.

Not having been to war myself, I am an innocent and have been all my life. My uncle would never talk about Vietnam and still won’t today. All I know is what family said, he was not the same after Vietnam.

What do we do for our veterans who come home shattered? How do we love them back to health and happiness? Is it possible? One thing I do know: Love is only part of it.

I don’t mean to suggest veterans who are traumatized walk around every moment thinking of their war experiences, nor am I saying happiness eludes them but for many, the pressure is too great to handle on their own. According to The Battle Buddy, a foundation whose mission is “to ensure that veterans and their families receive programs and services that will help them acclimate back to family and civilian life,” an average of 22 American veterans commit suicide daily. That’s more than 10 times the average number of active combatants lost in operations daily. They add to the number of fallen on Memorial Day.

These numbers are staggering, which is why our government officials’ lack of priority for veteran care is perplexing.

The topic of veteran care is often used as a political football, the two parties blocking and tackling each other to win a Super Bowl of politics. They’ll trot out veterans’ care during the presidential election, hoping to score with voters. Don’t be quick to buy their slicked-up speeches. Look first at their actions.

Memorial Day was designed to honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country. The average American waves the flag, shakes the hand of a veteran and says thank you, then heads home to grill up some burgers and weenies.

While Frank assures me no veteran begrudges anyone a good barbeque, the best way to honor our veterans is to insist our government leaders reform veteran care.

The tragedy of modern society is the distraction of everyday life. Our actions do not align with our hearts. We’re too busy to write letters or call elected officials to hold them accountable, though we seem to have plenty of time for Facebook. The cycle of war continues. America needs to take better care of the veterans who continue to come home. Government officials need to stop thinking about our warriors as tiny green plastic men – throw-away toys in the hands of children. The cost of veteran care IS part of the cost of war and should be accounted as such.

For more information about The Battle Buddy foundation, visit www.tbbf.org
Contact Lisa at publisher@geringcitizen.com
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