When I was little my mother was a bartender at the Live Oak, CA Veterans of Foreign Wars post 7263 and I later became a bartender at the Forest Hill, TX Veterans of Foreign Wars post 8911. One of the stereo types of bartenders is that we're good listeners, and I have to say that if you're a good bartender you fit the stereo type and if you're an even better bartender you remember the stories they tell.
I have met Pearl Harbor veterans, Normandy veterans, and Vietnam veterans. All of them have their stories and memories, and I have listened and share tears with them over a few rounds.
We as Americans usually throw on our red, white and blue, celebrate being patriots today and give thanks to those that have fallen by having barbecues. Celebrating this way has been a tradition since World War 2 and though I think it's an excellent thing to celebrate being American, for reasons I cannot express in words, I feel like we're not doing enough for our veterans. Its as though that we should be ashamed about how we've treated our veterans and those that have fallen.
In Girl Scouts we use to volunteer at soup kitchens and I spent a few Thanksgivings serving and then eating with the homeless at the large VFW post in downtown Santa Cruz. Many of the homeless we got on Thanksgiving were veterans of Vietnam and their generation failed them by not supporting them when they came home. Some went to war out of tradition, some were drafted and some believed in what we were fighting for, but many that came home did not have the assistance that we offer to many of our veterans today.
To this day there was one particular story that I cannot forget, because that showed me many sides of the Vietnam War.
At the VFW Post 8911 there was a standing rule among the men that no lady was to close the bar alone. We would always have 1 or 2 men with us and they took care of making sure that they knew someone was going to be staying there. Around 12midnight people would start to go home and you'd usually hear the men start to plan out who would be closing. We ladies would in turn make sure that the men that stayed till closing got home safe. My two favourites were Manny and Jesse.
Jesse was the commander of the VFW and his best friend Manny was the Quartermaster. These two were as different as night and day. Jesse is very reserved and would always make sure things were in order while Manny was the life of the party and made sure everyone was having a good time. They both treated me like a little sister and always made sure I was happy and smiling.
One night they were both closing with me and had finally convinced me to sit down and have a beer with them after I closed my register. Earlier we had a marine in that was a son of one of the other members and this type of thing usually made everyone nostalgic of their time and cheerful bragging would break out. Jesse and Manny had joined in, but as I sat down with them a different feeling settled on the bar.
Manny was talking about some great shots he'd taken in the war. He was a sniper in Vietnam and while protecting a caravan of supplies he spotted an enemy sniper at the same moment the sniper had seen him. Manny shot and took out the other sniper. He started celebrating and shoving the shoulder of his partner Rick while telling him about what he saw through his scope. Manny then looked at Rick, because he was not celebrating with him. The sniper that Manny had just shot had shot at the same time and hit Rick in the head. Manny then realized that he had his friend's blood all over him from the spray of the bullet hitting.
As Manny cried silently into his beer Jesse began telling us of his best friend from high school that was drafted at the same time as he was. Though they never saw each other in the service Jesse remembers all too well what it was like when they met up again after the war. His once cheerful and outgoing friend now was shaky, disconnected from his surroundings, tired and would start shouting out at random. Jesse remembers at times he would act like the guy he grew up with and whom he'd been the best man for, but most of the time Jesse would come over only to find him in a quiet state and then check with his wife to see what needed to be done around the house.
Jesse then went into how back then they were just finding out about Posttraumatic Stress, but many of the mental hospitals were being closed and the families did not know how to help the veterans. Within a year of coming home Jesse's friend ended up putting a bullet in his head.
These are the stories of how 2 men died in service to our country. One while doing his job for our country and the other one when we did not do our job for him.
Today lets remember those that died on the field and those that died when they came back because of what they did for our country. When you see a veteran giving out poppies for donations pause and thank them even if you can't make a donation. Make sure your children know why you are thanking them and giving them a donation. If you can spare just $1 a month why not sign up for a monthly donation (they take PayPal)? If you can't spare that then maybe think about volunteering at your local VFW. Also, many posts have a weekly dinner that is open to the public that you can attend and for under $10 a plate, meet new people and support them.
If nothing else just take a moment at your barbecue and raise your beers to those that have fallen.