2008/11/07:Honor a veteran; give of yourself - Frances Wiedenhoeft, VFP Chapter 25

Wisconsin State Journal

FRI., NOV 7, 2008 - 4:42 PM

Wiedenhoeft: Honor a veteran; give of yourself
Frances Wiedenhoeft

Here we are, another Veterans Day (Tuesday) and another year into our current war, trying to find a way to honor veterans without glorifying the war.

As a soldier, and a veteran of three wars, I cannot help but continue to contemplate this question.

Our society, like almost every society throughout history, gives our soldiers a special tribute of respect and admiration. We don't want soldiers to bear the emotional burden of war, so we try to let them know they are supported and not disrespected.

This is a good and necessary shift in our view, and it reflects more public responsibility for our country's actions. But whether you are in favor, against, or uncertain about the current U.S. wars, it may be worth pondering -- as I have pondered many times -- why we reserve such a special place in our culture for soldiers?

In times past, soldiers protected the family and ensured the safety of future generations. I have wondered many times since joining the military in 1990, and especially since 2001 -- and I encourage you to consider -- how true is this today? To what extent does our military action ensure the survival of our future generations? To what extent does it jeopardize it?

Regardless of what you conclude, we are here, approaching eight years at war in Afghanistan and six years in Iraq.

In Madison, members and friends of the Veterans for Peace Clarence Kailin Chapter 25 have placed replica gravestones along Speedway Drive to remind us of the human cost of war. As a medical worker, I find it impossible to forget that cost.

Honoring our soldiers will never be an intellectual exercise for me. The markers for me are the men and women, many of whose life blood ran through my hands as they left this earth. They occupy my dreams, and interrupt my waking life, persisting in their efforts to be recognized and acknowledged.

But I am alive, and they are gone, and like many others throughout history who have been touched by war, I find that dedicating my actions to honoring their memories helps me to reconcile the person that most of the people in my life know with the soldier who keeps coming home, enveloped in the evil I have touched.

The question probably lingers in some people's minds: How do we honor the veterans? How do we honor the human cost? What can we do?

The answer is simple: Do anything you can.

Observing the recent presidential election it seemed many Americans weren't merely looking for a president, they were looking for a savior. But in our form of government we are the saviors.

In the peaks and valleys of grassroots social change in America, we are at somewhat of a low point. Don't allow yourselves to give in to despair -- a luxury that soldiers unable to recover from their wounds don't have.

War has made us weary. Maybe this is a good time to invigorate ourselves. Take an example from one of many local heroes, David Meixelsperger of Berkeley Running Co. on University Avenue.

He tirelessly devoted himself to run with my grandson, and to help fill the gap of my absence during my last deployment. David continues to honor veterans and help veterans running groups, donate to veteran events and welcome veterans in his store with running advice and discounts.

One act makes a difference.

Do you want to honor a veteran? Read to children in your local school. Even if you don't have children, or if your children are grown, be active in your schools.

If you like sports, share your enthusiasm with young people by coaching at YMCA or other places where they have access to sports and fitness.

There are so many places to give of your time and energy. And if you don't have much energy and struggle yourself to get by, consider a phone call to a veteran.

As I have recently fought my way out of the suffocating plastic bag they call post traumatic stress disorder, I am so grateful for my family and friends. I really don't wonder at all why so many veterans commit suicide, but maybe a regular check-in call might help one person.

If you want to honor a veteran on this Veterans Day, if you want to express your gratitude, then act. Become engaged in society to the fullest extent you can. Do your part to foster this free society, which was part of the veterans' gift to you.

Wiedenhoeft is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves.