Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day! From the Daughter of a Hero

I am the daughter of a Vietnam Dust Off pilot; I am the daughter of a hero.  Happy Veterans Day to all of our service people. My Dad will be the first to try to tell me that he's not the real hero. If you ask any of the Dust Off crew about the heroic acts of flying rescue missions in Vietnam they will all quickly recall the stories of another pilot, another medic- they will speak with such pride of their service brothers and about what Dust Off really means but tell you so little about themselves. There's no ego in their service- selfless then, and still now, they will tell you they were just flying the mission.

In a jungle a little over 40 years ago my Dad was one of the men who risked his life time and again to save others. Dust Off, the medivac helicopter unit, was who was called when all else failed- Dust Off was who never turned down a mission- Dust Off was who never hesitated to fly into the most dangerous of situations, with the biggest target on their backs to get our men home safely. As young men, some still in their teens, their bravery and courage changed them forever. They would fly anywhere, anytime to answer the call. They would be shot up, shot down, and then run to the nearest helicopter to go back out there and finish the mission. They were brave, courageous, sometimes seemingly crazy in their acts of heroic service, and they were never the same.

I wasn't alive then, I didn't see this, but I know it... I know it from the man that my Dad is, I know it from the honor of having met some of my Dust Off uncles, and I know it from their stories. As the daughter of a Dust Off pilot I know the war never goes away for the people who lived it, it changes but never leaves them.  I also know how deeply our country let them down. Upon their arrival home our soldiers were met with harsh treatment, some spit on and sworn at, and all were asked to put away the memories, move on with life, and were not celebrated or embraced for their heroic service. Our country let these men down and did in some cases perhaps as much damage as the war itself.

I am hopeful we have learned- that my generation understands now that soldiers deserve to be honored even when we do not agree with the wars. If and when we do not agree with the political decisions being made by our government then we have a duty as citizens protected by our service men and women, we have an obligation, to stand up to the government to bring our soldiers home but we have an equally important obligation and duty to take care of and HONOR the brave individuals willing to take up the call of defending the United States.

We also must take care of those who have served our country- they deserve the best healthcare, education, jobs, and treatment we have to give. They deserve to be honored and cared for long after the war is over. The deserve hugs, handshakes, thanks, and gratitude everyday and so do the families who wait by the TV, Internet, or phone for a loved one who is in harms way, who keep the home fires burning, take care of the children, pets, house so that our service men and women can do their jobs for our country and especially for the families whose loved ones have paid the ultimate price of war.  We can't pay them enough, we can't thank them enough, but we can make sure that we vote for legislation that protects and cares for them- we can fight for our veterans as they continue to fight for us.

This is also the first Veterans Day that we can openly and proudly celebrate our Gay and Lesbian service people. Many of these individuals had to hide who they were from all around them for fear of being discriminated against, for fear of not being allowed to serve their country.  With the repeal (FINALLY) of Don't Ask Don't Tell, our heroes are freer to be who they are and live their lives in pride and honor.  We must not forget all of the gay and lesbian service men and women who were dis-honorably discharged simple for who they loved- they served our country and our country does not serve them- they are without the benefits they earned and deserve.

I am hopeful. We have come such a long way from the rallies where heroes were made into villains, from the policies that didn't allow service people to be who they are, and from a culture where PTSD and mental illness were once so deeply stigmatized... but we can and must continue to strive for better for our veterans.  Thank you to my Dad, my Dust Off family, and all of our service people and families. Happy Veterans Day!