There’s a saying that a soldier brings home more than just his uniform. My father was a WWII vet, fought at the Battle of the Bulge, married my mother after the fact, even served in Korea. Even as a child—6thout of 7 mind you—I knew that something was a bit . . . off. PTSD wasn’t a thing then, although the term “shell shock” was wearing off. Soldiers were meant to hang up their uniform in the closet, close the door, and pick up right where they left off.
Except, they didn’t.
I think Vietnam brought us that revelation. With the addition of war trauma, these men had to come home to even worse liberals than what we have now (if that is possible.) Horrible names and accusations were hurled at them. They had to face their own demons on top of the home demons.
My dad dealt with horrible claustrophobia. We always sensed it had something to do with the war. But we weren’t the hugging type anyway.
He also never slept a whole night through in his own bed. He fell asleep on the couch watching old black and white war movies. In the summer it wasn’t unusual for him to spend the night in his truck out on the farm to “make sure the sprinkler system was working right.”
To be honest, we didn’t mind. It was a break, a relief from the storms that would erupt about every 3 months. We never knew what would spark it, but it didn’t really matter. We got used to feeling that sense of relief after one, and the tension building toward the next. I learned to be invisible, and my father was great at pretending he didn’t see me either. It was a symbiotic relationship, one that not all of my siblings seemed to master.
But as I aged, got married, had children, got a degree in sociology, I began to see this man as a soldier and a complicated individual. I became interested in other veterans and their stories, and was taught that all soldiers deserve respect. ALL of them paid a price, as did their families back home.
Memorial Day is not just about those who died in our defense, it’s about those who tried to return to what they left, but quickly realized that they were never going to be the same. As for my mother, she never knew him before the war, but I still suspect she never really knew what she was getting into. She—all of us—found out the hard way.
This holiday is complicated for veterans and their families, but it shouldn’t be for everyone else. Just a simple thank you to the soldier and their families. Because, you see, you’re thanking more than just a uniform. You’re thanking the men and women who wear it, even when it hangs in the closet. For memories never really gather dust, and some doors you can never really close.