I am a fourth generation combat veteran.
My great-grandfathers fought in World War I, my grandfathers in World War II and my father in Vietnam.
I grew up in a veteran family, but my grandfather and father hardly ever spoke of their service. That is until the day I enlisted; then, it was like the floodgates opened up. They told me story after story of their victories and even of their tougher times.
I can imagine much is same for many of you veterans out there.
I find it’s easier to share my stories with fellow veterans, but sometimes, I share some of the funnier stories with my civilian friends, even though they don’t find them as funny as I do.
As you are well aware, another Veteran’s day has come and gone, and I wanted to talk about what it is like to share your story with people.
I know how awkward it is when people come and say “thank you for your service.” I never quite know how to respond. I usually bow my head and say “no problem,” hardly ever looking them in the eye because my thoughts always go back to the ones we carried home.
It’s hard because I know Veteran’s Day is not about those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
That is Memorial Day.
But somehow, as sure as I breathe, my thoughts always go back to them and the events that caused their lives to end so abruptly. Every year in October, I get the opportunity to go to Titusville Middle School and share my experience in Iraq with the eighth graders there.
Those students participate in an essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, called “The Patriots Pen.” They are given a prompt, such as “what is patriotism to me?,” and they write about it.
So, I go in and visit them and talk about what I did ,what I saw and basically what life was like in Iraq for a year.
There is a saying that goes, “those that talk about it never did anything, but those that are silent have seen too much.”
I choose to talk about it, to share my history if you will. To give those kids some kind of short glimpse into what it is like.
I never go into too much detail, as I know I need to make sure to keep it age appropriate for them.
They seem to really enjoy it, and I do too. I feel it is therapeutic for me to talk about it and share the memories of all those great soldiers I served with.
When it comes to my own family, my wife already knows everything, and I do mean everything.
It was hard for me to let her see that part of my life, especially the ugly parts that I wanted to shield her from.
But, I feel it has made us stronger as she sees exactly what I am dealing with.
For my children on the other hand, that’s a different story. I have a daughter, 14, and two sons, 11 and 8. My daughter heard my presentation when she was in eighth grade last year, and now there’s a better understanding between us.
My sons, however, ask a lot of questions, which I do my best to answer honestly. I never lie to them, but if they ask a difficult question or one
I feel they are too young to know the answer to, I simply tell them just that.
“You are too young to ask that. Perhaps when you are older I will answer that.”
Of course, every veteran gets those questions, the ones we’d rather pretend we didn’t hear: “Did you kill anyone?” “How many people did you shoot?”
I usually answer those questions by saying, “I am one of the lucky ones.”
“I made it an entire year and never had to fire my weapon.”
Why go through all of this you ask? Because much like a deep tissue massage, talking about it lessens the sting of the trauma for me. It may not work for every veteran, but I believe that for most it does.
So I encourage all of my fellow veterans to find someone — anyone you trust — and share your story with them.
Do not carry that burden all by yourself.
George Schmidt is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.