I stay off Facebook on Veterans Day. The reason is that I hate Veterans Day on social media. I loathe peoples’ “Happy Veterans Day! Thank you for your service!” status updates. To me, they just ring hollow. Here’s why:
As a 19-year-old, my dad was drafted to serve in Vietnam. He was assigned (or signed up) to be a dog handler. Now that may sound kind of wimpy, but the dog handlers and the dogs were the first ones on the scene to check out an area. Their job was to sniff out landmines so the rest of the unit could avoid them. Their training was intense and the soldiers and the dogs communicated to each other via a set of hand gestures and learned behaviors.
The dogs and their handlers were so effective at finding the landmines that they were highly prized targets. My dad and his dog, a German Shepard named Rommel who he named after the German general, were so good that they often did assignments with Special Forces.
Like a lot of Vietnam Veterans, my dad rarely talks about the war or his experiences in Vietnam. When I was young my parents both told me he never had to shoot anyone, but as an adult, I now know that is not true. He had to kill people. It was war.
He does talk about the dogs. He once told me that in the rare instance a dog accidentally stumbled onto and triggered a landmine, and this is heartbreaking, they would sit on the explosion site trying to protect their handler. Dogs are the best and too good for this life.
One night while he was sleeping on a cot there was an explosive that killed the rest of my dad’s unit and left him with shrapnel in his head and back—for life. He was patched up and sent home with PTSD and a raging backache that has lasted 45 years. Because my dad was medivacced out, we don’t know what happened to Rommel, and that is also something that has haunted him for 45 years. Rommel represented a life-or-death relationship for him.
So why do everyone’s Facebook message ring so hollow to me? Because words are nice, but actions really matter. Too many people equate posting something on social media to real action.
It’s so easy to write “thank you” and hit “enter”, what’s harder is to do the research and make the choice to vote for pro-veteran and pro-service member political candidates. Hint: These are not always the ones who are “pro-military” in fact, they are often the opposite.
It’s harder to do your research and patronize businesses who don’t just give lip service to hiring veterans, but finding and patronizing the ones who actually do hire veterans.
It’s harder to gather up your used clothing, wash it, fold it and donate it to the Vietnam Veterans of America.
It’s harder to find the time to say “thank you” to a veteran in person or on the phone.
If you’re going to post on Facebook about how much you “support the troops and thank the veterans” for their service, you better be backing that up with some action.
Thank you for indulging me in a very personal post. Tomorrow we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Image by my mom taken of me and my dad in 1976, six years after he returned from Vietnam.