Tag Archives: veterans

I Must Be One of the Best, Because I’m Not One of the Worst

A U.S. marine watches children play in Ramadi, in Iraq's Anbar province. (AP Photo/Todd Pitman)

Are there atheists in foxholes? How do we justify our participation in wars that kill civilians, often children? At The American Scholar, veteran and author of Redeployment Phil Klay turns his writer’s eye on himself in this essay on war, faith, and fatherhood, and reckons with his own complicity.

I was in a different position. My job in the Marine Corps meant that I was generally a spectator rather than an actor in the war. I was never faced with the responsibility of leading men in combat, never responsible for the direct act of killing, never faced with what Marlantes has described as “a situation approaching the sacred in its terror and contact with the infinite.” Instead, I had the images of those children in my head, and for a young man, fervently believing in the mission and in the potential for the Marine Corps to turn around Anbar Province, they confirmed me in all I believed. A Special Forces veteran later told me why, for him, killing people in Iraq felt less morally troubling than killing people in Afghanistan. “Iraq may have been a giant clusterfuck,” he said, “but al-Qaeda did always make it easy.” In other words, al-Qaeda was so grotesquely, absurdly evil, you could not help but compare yourself with them and assume that you must be good.

So rather than challenging my Christian faith or provoking deep questions about who I was as a man, what kind of war I was in, and what sort of country I was a citizen of, the children made me feel like I didn’t have to justify myself at all. When I got home, those children were a useful tool for propping up my image of myself as a decent human being. Confronted with a man who voiced contempt at the notion that anyone would fight in a war that had caused such horrendous civilian casualties, I told him, “I carried injured Iraqi children to medical care with my own hands! What have you done for Iraqi civilians recently? Posted snarky comments on Facebook?”

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From a Hawk to a Dove

Illustration by Katie Kosma

Ray Cocks | Longreads | May 2017 | 11 minutes (2,844 words)

Our latest Exclusive is an essay by Vietnam veteran Ray Cocks, co-funded by Longreads Members and published in collaboration with TMI Project, a non-profit that brings empowering memoir writing and true storytelling workshops to underserved populations.

When I graduate high school in the spring of 1967, I’m determined to go to war. I enlist in the army and prepare to leave, proudly, for Vietnam.

Before I go I encounter some older guys coming back home. They speak out against the conflict, but I don’t believe them. “Don’t go,” they tell me. “It’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit.” I think they’re just hogging all the glory for themselves.

Nothing is going to stop me. Besides, what ever happened to “My country, right or wrong”?

***

To tell my story, It helps to back up and start with my father’s.

During World War II, he was a gunner’s mate, third class, on board the aircraft carrier Yorktown — the second one, commissioned after the first was sunk. He was on a five-inch cannon, information that means little to me when I first learn it as a kid. But then I wind up on a four-inch cannon in Vietnam.

My generation was raised by World War II veterans — the iron men who served on such ships and watched as their friends were burned to death, blown to hell, drowned, eaten by sharks, shot to pieces literally. World War II, “the big one,” — a massive, global stroke of insanity that brewed from the ashes of World War I, the war that was to make the world safe for democracy.

These men went through the rest of their lives, for the most part, with untreated PTSD. My father was no exception. Read more…

How A Simple Mistake Can Put You on the Street: Why Grandpa is Homeless

Photo by Doug Waldron (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Pacific Standard, Rachel Nuwer reports on the aging homeless population of California and how something seemingly innocuous — like forgetting to renew your driver’s license on time — can instigate a downward spiral into poverty and homelessness that skyrocketing rent and street-inflicted trauma can extend, sometimes indefinitely.

Life was stable for Herb until 2013, when he “got lazy” and neglected to renew his truck-driver license. He didn’t realize the severity of his error until he applied for a new license but could not pass the written test. Although Herb quickly landed a job as a security guard at a fast-food restaurant, even working overtime didn’t provide enough for him to make ends meet. He fell behind on rent and was evicted.

Herb experienced that unfortunate reality firsthand. Last winter, his car got towed, taking his security-guard uniform and most of his remaining possessions with it. He never got the car back — he didn’t have the funds. Unable to dress for work, he stopped going, and spent the next two months on the streets. He panhandled, flashing his veteran’s ID as he asked for spare change, and was sometimes reduced to eating out of dumpsters. To survive the winter chill, he slept bundled up in several layers of pants, shirts, and blankets. Once, a cop tried to shoo him from a doorway, and Herb begged him to take him to jail instead, so he would have a warm place to sleep. The officer told him, “I’m not taking you to jail, but you can’t stay here.”

“I was really down,” Herb says. Yet he still counted himself lucky. “A lot of the people I met on the street were on meds and should have been hospitalized,” he says. “They really couldn’t take care of themselves.” But even a strong, able-bodied person like Herb will soon be broken down under those conditions. At one point he began suffering from severe chest pains, so he checked into Oakland’s Highland Hospital, where he remained for five days. “The stress got to me,” he says. “The hospital people told me, ‘Herb, just being on the streets is messing you up.’”

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The Responsibility of Being Both a Reporter and an Army Veteran

Photo by  US Army, Flickr

Veteran status cuts both ways. Because I’m an army veteran, other vets often tell me things they wouldn’t tell those who haven’t served. It is a privilege to be given this confidence, and yet I’m filled with an overwhelming obligation to get their stories right. Although I’m a longtime reporter, writing about veterans has been the hardest subject for me to cover, because their stories are so nuanced, and reporters, most of whom have never served in the military and have no connection with the armed services, frequently get their stories wrong and paint them as one-dimensional lunatics. I wanted to get Capps’s story right and not come off as a voyeur. There was some precedent for my concern: a month before our interview, Capps had spoken about his struggle with PTSD at the National Endowment for the Arts, which sponsors his NICoE seminar, and after his talk he told me he was destroyed for the rest of the day.

—Veteran and freelance reporter Kristina Shevory profiling Army combat veteran and former Foreign Service officer Ron Capps in The Believer. Capps was haunted by PTSD after serving in Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Kosovo; writing brought him relief and helped him make sense of his experiences. He formed the Veterans Writing Project in 2011.

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How Would You Design a Memorial for World War III?

Architect Maya Lin was a senior at Yale when she designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In a 2000 essay for the New York Review of Books—which she began writing around the memorial’s completion in fall 1982 and then put aside for nearly two decades—she reflects on how she came to enter in the competition, and the concepts behind her design. After seeing a notice announcing a competition for a Vietnam veterans memorial, Lin’s funereal architecture seminar decided to adopt the design idea as their class’s final project. In the excerpt below, she delves into the class’s previous assignment:

At that point, not much was known about the actual competition, so for the first half of the assignment we were left without concrete directions for what “they” were looking for or even who “they” were. Instead, we had to determine for ourselves what a Vietnam memorial should be. Since a previous project had been to design a memorial for World War III, I had already begun to ask the simple questions: What exactly is a memorial? What should it do?

My design for a World War III memorial was a tomblike underground structure that I deliberately made to be a very futile and frustrating experience. I remember the professor of the class coming up to me afterward, saying quite angrily, “If I had a brother who died in that war, I would never want to visit this memorial.” I was somewhat puzzled that he didn’t quite understand that World War III would be of such devastation that none of us would be around to visit any memorial, and that my design was instead a pre-war commentary. In asking myself what a memorial to a third world war would be, I came up with a political statement that was meant as a deterrent.

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When Prescription Abuse Among Veterans Accelerates Into Heroin Addiction

Colby’s death is one of at least five fatal overdoses with direct links to the Tomah VA while Houlihan was in charge. Some, like Colby, overdosed primarily on prescription medications. That was true for Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old former Marine who died in the Tomah VA’s psychiatric ward in August after Houlihan suggested the opiate Suboxone be added to a prescribed mixture of 14 medications.

Others happened when prescription abuse accelerated into heroin addiction. This progression, seen around the country, contributes to a fatal overdose rate among VA patients that the agency’s researchers have pegged attwice the national average.

“The effects produced by oxycodone and hydrocodone are indistinguishable from the effects produced by heroin,” said psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of Phoenix House, which runs more than 100 drug treatment clinics nationwide. “If we don’t see that the many veterans who became addicted are provided with effective addiction treatment, we will continue to see veterans turn to heroin, and we will continue to see very high overdose death rates.”

Aaron Glantz, writing about opiate overprescription among veterans for Reveal News. Glantz’s investigation focused on the community around the Tomah VA in Wisconsin, where opiate prescriptions have skyrocketed under the hospital’s chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan.

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Honoring Your Forebears: Our College Pick

Regular readers of a particular magazine can usually pick up on that publication’s voice. Articles sound like Cosmo or the New Yorker or Saveur and we read them because we like articles that sound that way. We like the voice. Professional writers learn to tailor stories to a specific magazine and journalism students practice writing stories that sound like they could be published in the titles they love and admire. R.J. Vogt’s profile of an aging Medal of Honor winner draws the best of Esquire‘s voice, ruminating on age and death and masculinity and heroism. It is, like all good magazine articles, about something bigger than the initial storyline.

He Wears a Medal of Honor

R.J. Vogt | Medal of Honor Project | July 29, 2014 | 10 minutes (2,598 words)

When Our Troops Are Abandoned and Neglected at Home: 6 Stories

This October 2014 New York Times investigation by C.J. Chivers is about more than just the discovery of old chemical weapons in Iraq—it’s about how shabbily we still treat our troops when they return home. We leave our all-volunteer army with inadequate medical care, emotional trauma, and fragile families. Here are six stories on our veterans.

* * * Read more…

The True Story of the G.I. Bill

Three months later, on October 27, 1943, Roosevelt turned his idea into a concrete proposal, formally asking Congress to enact legislation that would finance one year of educational or vocational training for all who served in World War II. Those deemed to have academic potential would be eligible for support for four years. “For many, what they desire most in the way of employment will require special training and further education,” wrote Roosevelt. “As a part of a general program for the benefit of the members of our armed services, I believe that the Nation is morally obligated to provide this training and education and the necessary financial assistance by which they can be secured.”

Roosevelt envisioned long-term benefits for the country. “The money invested in this training and schooling program will reap rich dividends in higher productivity, more intelligent leadership, and greater human happiness. We must replenish our supply of persons qualified to discharge the heavy responsibilities of the postwar world. We have taught our youth how to wage war; we must also teach them how to live useful and happy lives in freedom, justice, and decency.”

Meredith Hindley, in Humanities, on how the G.I. Bill was born, and how it initially faced opposition from some veterans groups.

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Photo: FDR Library

The Last Living Recipient of VA Benefits from the Civil War

Ms. Triplett’s pension, small as it is, stands as a reminder that war’s bills don’t stop coming when the guns fall silent. The VA is still paying benefits to 16 widows and children of veterans from the 1898 Spanish-American War.

The last U.S. World War I veteran died in 2011. But 4,038 widows, sons and daughters get monthly VA pension or other payments. The government’s annual tab for surviving family from those long-ago wars comes to $16.5 million.

Spouses, parents and children of deceased veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan received $6.7 billion in the 2013 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Payments are based on financial need, any disabilities, and whether the veteran’s death was tied to military service.

Those payments don’t include the costs of fighting or caring for the veterans themselves. A Harvard University study last year projected the final bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would hit $4 trillion to $6 trillion in the coming decades…

A declaration of war sets in motion expenditures that can span centuries, whether the veterans themselves were heroes, cowards or something in between.

Michael M. Phillips, writing in the Wall Street Journal. Phillips profiled Irene Triplett, the last living recipient of VA benefits connected to the Civil War. According to Phillips, Triplett, who is 84, “collects $73.13 from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a pension payment for her father’s military service—in the Civil War,” which ended in 1865.

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More stories from The Wall Street Journal

Photo: Library of Congress, Flickr