Sunday, May 27, 2012

by Donna K. Weaver
Originally posted here.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots -- Thomas Jefferson

American Cemetery in Manila
I had my first view of a military cemetery, when I was about 12 or 13. My father was stationed on Sangley Point in the Philippines, and we visited the American Cemetery in Manila.
This was an eye-opening experience for me because of the sheer number of graves. Seeing all those grave markers made it real to me. That each one of those marked a life given up in defense of this country's freedom ... my freedom.

My next experience was a few years later, when I spent the summer I was 16 in Hawaii with some family friends. Dean (the dad) was stationed on Pearl Harbor and during that summer we visited the Arizona Memorial.

Arizona Memorial - List of Killed

Once again I was struck by the number of names on the list. It's easy to sit in a classroom and read the statistical information about the number of men who died there. But this wasn't a list of statistics. This was a list of real people who had families and dreams. I would never again consider the "statistics" of battles as something just of numbers.

Punch Bowl Cemetery - Honolulu
We also visited the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Honolulu. It was poignant for me as I looked at the new graves. Unlike the cemetery in Manila or the Arizona, these were recently killed young people. Young men who had died in Vietnam. Young men not many years older than me. Young men who may not have agreed with what our government was doing but answered when our nation called--and paid the ultimate price.

I come from a long line of people who have served this country. Two of my great grandfathers fought in the Civil War (they lost, but I believe the country gained).

Following are pictures of my family members who have or are now serving our country.
My maternal grandfather. He served in the U.S. Cavalry.
My Uncle Ned survived not only the attack on Pearl Harbor but the battle of Iwo Jima. He died last winter.
My uncle Jim and my dad (who served 25 years).
My brother David in his Naval Academy uniform.
Me with my Signal Corps Scarf. (my husband Ed served in the Air Force in Vietnam)
My brother-in-law Maynard who was Career Navy and served in Desert Storm. My sister Darcy didn't have a picture of herself in uniform, but she also served.
My nephew Evan who served in Afghanistan.

Bert, one of my fellow moderators at the Leaky Lounge wrote the following a few years ago:

A Simple Request

A few days ago, I caught a brief reference in the news to the return of a handful of Marines from Iraq, met by a small but vocal group of protesters. The incident brought back more than a few memories. I feel compelled to speak to my academic colleagues.

Sooner, perhaps, than we are ready, we may be faced with an issue Academia has not really faced in a generation, large numbers of young veterans enrolling in our classes, beginning new lives and new careers.

Having stood where they shall stand, I hope I can help you to understand what they shall face and how they will behave.

They shall face, as I did, professors who will inform them on the first day of class that they may as well drop out now because anyone too stupid to avoid military service is, obviously, too stupid to pass the course work. Many will respond by scoring 100% every test you give them, getting their A's not because you "give" them A's but because they "take" those A's by brute intellectual force, driving themselves with a self discipline few who have never served in a combat zone can imagine. These young people have worked fifty-and sixty-hour days in unbearable heat for months on end, performing exacting but mind numbing tasks upon which, literally, the lives of other people depend. They shall not be overwhelmed by your reading lists. Like all veterans, they know that the rest of their life is a gift.

They shall be called, as I was called, names like fascist, rapist, and baby killer--by both faculty and students alike, often in class and to their face. But they have had worse things thrown at them. They've been trained to stand their ground under fire. More importantly, they know the truth; they know that they built clinics and schools and gave first aid to children shot, burned, cut, and blown up by an enemy who indiscriminately destroys anyone who appears to be friendly to Americans—even small children. It is easy to sit here in America watching CBS or CNN, believing you "know" what all those young people are doing. I am often amused to see professors who regularly rant about the unreality of TV falling into the very foolishness they condemn.

They shall be used as pawns in games of political propaganda by professors trying to make political statements. But these young veterans have, unfortunately, been used on occasion by foolish and inept officers who see their own military "exploits" not as something contributing to national security, but as some kind of political currency to be traded later for votes. These young vets know an "A-hole" when they see one. They know how to protect themselves.

Be warned. Often they will be smarter than you—no, not better educated or more well read—but wiser, faster. Many of them are going to graduate with honors—magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa—and then they are coming after you, coming to take your job, where they know that someday they can make a difference in how this nation treats its young veterans.

I don't care how you feel about them; they don't care either. My simple request is that you treat them fairly. Give them the chance they have earned and the grades they deserve. Don't make them fight a second war against intolerance and bigotry here in their own country.

As for me, I will embrace them as comrades.


C. L. Hanson said...

That's excellent that veterans will be entering the university system in large numbers and will have the discipline to make the most of their educational opportunities. As that's terrible when they have to face unfair, unfounded, and insulting assumptions about them.

That said, I could turn your post around and write an equivalent rant about the unfair, unfounded, and insulting assumptions you're making about professors. If you walk into class with a chip on your shoulder and an assumption that you "shall be used as pawns in games of political propaganda by professors trying to make political statements," that's not going to help your education, nor is it a sign of self-discipline.

A huge part of education is interacting with people whose ideas and assumptions are different than your own. Young non-veteran students -- yes, and even professors -- have a lot to learn for veterans. But it goes both ways. Everyone can benefit from people that they maybe don't understand (yet) and have perhaps misjudged.

Weaver said...

C.L. the writer of that piece speaks from his personal experience, both as a Vietnam veteran and a professor in the California state education system.

When I read it, I did not assume that he spoke to all professors. I read it as a broad brush painted on assumptions being made about returning veterans.

I was distressed recently to read that 25% of all returning vets have PTSD. That blew me away, yet I realized that PTSD can run from minor to severe. My children and I learned early on not to wake my husband--a Vietnam vet--while standing to close to the bed.

Leslie said...

Great post for this weekend (or anytime). I come from a family that has had many members in military service in the past. My brother-in-law is deployed right now. I hope we will have more tolerance and acceptance of those that served our country as they enter colleges, jobs, and normal life.