03 April 2009

"In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire"

For as long as there have been wars, there have been soldiers coming home to lives interrupted, faces changed and children grown.
Writing about an upcoming event for the “Yellow Ribbon Program,” which seeks to help returning veterans and assist their families while deployed, I couldn’t help but think that the troops returning from today’s battlefield are the latest in a long line of those who have had to readjust to a life that changed in their absence.
Ernest Hemmingway knew this readjustment. The author, who had been wounded as an ambulance driver in World War I, wrote a story called “Soldier’s Home” in 1925, nearly seven years after the “War to End All Wars” had ended. The story deals with a young man named Krebs and his readjustment upon returning home. Even though the book was written more than 80 years ago, it’s hard not to think that the same issues confront returning veterans today.
“By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over. He came back much too late. The men from the town who had been drafted had all been welcomed elaborately on their return. There had been a great deal of hysteria. Now the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.
At first Krebs, who had been at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St. Mihiel and in the Argonne did not want to talk about the war at all. Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it.”
It would seem natural that returning to civilian life would be a difficult adjustment after experiencing the intensity of a combat zone. Memories of war linger for years. This is nothing new. Oliver Wendell Holmes, the former Supreme Court justice, found this to be the case years after his Civil War service with a Massachusetts militia.
“We have shared the incommunicable experience of war. . . we have felt, we still feel the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire.”
The men and women returning from today’s battlefields have stories to tell. Their books are not yet written, their history not etched in stone. But unlike soldiers returning from previous wars, efforts are being made to ensure the soldier can once again adjust to the civilian lives they left to defend. It is up to all of us to help with this readjustment process. We simply cannot afford to fail those who have given so much.

This column was first published in the April 9, 2009, issue of the Lakeville Sun-Current

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