This year on Veterans Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, and on every Veterans Day, our community celebrates and honors the military service of all veterans who have served their country in the United States military. In particular, we recognize and extend our profound and deeply-felt gratitude for the service of our Cherokee tribal members, our Jackson and Swain County members, and their families. It need not be said, but it’s true, “All gave some, and some gave all.”
Coming home after military service, many of our veterans faced challenges and adjustments that others found difficult to understand. For some of those veterans, years were required for a healing process in the search for inner peace and understanding. Trying to cope with past traumatic stress injury that sometimes resulted from doing what they were trained for and ordered to do, required focus, commitment, and courage. It was not easy.
Destroying human life violates a core principle of our faith traditions and of the human family. And yet, veterans are accorded respect, accolades, and honor for the very actions that create their pain. That paradox weighs heavily on many. There has got to be a better way. If our leaders continue the kind of short-sighted, collective behavior that has been demonstrated in the past, we will be forever in conflict with other nations and ourselves. There will be no peace for our country or our veterans. We have seen the results for some who served, trying to heal the pain through unacceptable methods of numbing the pain. This destructive behavior has stayed with them for years, helped and perpetuated by the scourge of painkillers that are sold in our pharmacies and on our streets. We cannot heal if we cannot feel.
Many veterans have laid their lives on the line for our freedoms. And yet, coming home they have found no freedom from their internalized self-perpetuating cycles of pain. We can do better. We are doing better, thankfully.
The improvements made in the Veterans Administration rehabilitation programs in recent years are encouraging. Our Charles George VA Center in Asheville has led the way. It is one of the best, if not the best, in the country. Our Tribal commitment to bring VA services to our new hospital has been a blessing to many of our older veterans. For that, we are deeply grateful.
But, for some of the young men and women who volunteered in droves to serve their country after the horrors of 9/11, the nightmares continue. They got caught up in the big lie of their generation, the so-called weapons of mass destruction supposedly hidden in Iraq.
Our country’s absurd reaction to that big lie, the invasion of Iraq, victimized the patriotic fervor of these incredible young people, just as the myth of a North Vietnamese gunboat attacking a fully-armored American destroyer, the USS Maddox, in the Gulf of Tonkin, did to us in my generation.
As I sat in my living room and watched the anti-aircraft fire streaming up over Kabul I had immediate flashbacks to the night sky over Hanoi, as the North Vietnamese gunners fired to defend their homeland. The bright tracers were lighting up the sky and my cockpit. “Mayday” calls of my squadron mates saturated our common guard frequency – the cries of young warriors who never made it home. More victims of a big lie. My heart weeps for them even to this day, some 55 years later. Will we ever learn? As we search for greater peace, the scriptural mandate “Love Ye One Another” can be our guidepost. It has not only personal and family implications, but tribal, national, and international ones as well.
I have seen and felt that dark shadow of trauma and suffering, as many of my brother and sister veterans have, since I was released from active duty more than 50 years ago. And, it has deeply impacted my life. The answer for most of us is to continue to serve and to be there for each other.
We are asking you, each of you, to come and be with us on Veterans Day as we stand together at the Cherokee Exhibition Hall at 11:00 a.m., prayerfully striving for a greater peace, and honor those who honored us.
Later in the day, at 3 p.m., a Veterans Day parade will be held in Sylva to recognize and honor Jackson County veterans and lift their spirits as we stand with our beloved brothers and sisters there and strengthen each other.
L. H. Harding