First, if you’re a veteran, thank you for stepping up. Most of what you did was certainly not glamorous. Occasionally very dangerous and often very boring. But someone had to do it, and you did. Thank you.
Your service underscores a current news thread. There is a crisis of recruitment as the various branches of the armed forces struggle to meet personnel needs. This is attributed to a number of factors. The perception that our country is a rotten place and not worth serving seems to be one factor. The economy is another (civilian jobs are plentiful). Kids in prime recruitment age are, well, “just not interested.” As a society, we have a lot of work to do turning this around.
I also think closer to home. I have had close family members involved in every conflict since World War II. I thank my Dad, uncles, brothers-in-law, nephew, and cousins (one of whom didn’t make it out of Viet Nam).
I also reflect on my own law practice and the veterans I have been privileged to serve over the years. Many of these guys had some interesting stories.
The WW II Guys
Earlier in my practice, they were the World War II vets. I think often of the rather grizzled guy who regaled me with stories of his years as a German POW. He’d been fighting under Patton when his unit got an unpleasant surprise from a bigger German unit. He told me that all-in-all the Germans didn’t treat them too badly as long as everyone behaved. He said it was a different story for the Russians on the other side of the wire in the same camp. Their captors’ hatred seemed limitless.
There was also the guy (a retired physician) who was an Army surgeon that went ashore in the third wave at D-Day. When I asked how it was he rather laconically replied, “We were really busy.”
I haven’t seen any WWII guys in quite a while. They were my parents’ generation. My Mom died last March at 104. Today, November 11, coincidentally, would have been her 105th (they celebrated her first birthday the day World War I ended – the first “Armistice Day”).
After going through the Great Depression as children, the WW II vets came home built lives and families and were, perhaps, the “Greatest Generation” (as Tom Brokaw dubbed them). For the most part, they’re all gone now, and I miss them.
The Korean War Vets
Yes, yes, I know. It wasn’t really a “war” in the legal sense. But ask anyone who was there.
For quite a few years there was a steady stream of Korean War vets into my conference room. One garrulous old Marine (he said his current status was “inactive”) became really quiet when I asked about his experience at Chosin Reservoir. He looked down at the conference room table and said, “Why don’t you just read about it.” I did. I had trouble getting my head around it.
I haven’t seen any Korean War vets in a good while, although I still have a few widows of those guys come through.
The Elvis Generation
I still see quite a few of these folks. Korea was over. Viet Nam hadn’t begun. But we were eye-to-eye with the Soviets and many feared an invasion through West Germany’s Fulda Gap. Like their age group peer, Elvis, they joined up and served (as one client wryly put it, “But Elvis got to make movies while he served. I just sat in a tank”).
It seems unfair, but because there wasn’t any active shooting going on anywhere (a “War Time Period” as the VA calls it), these guys don’t qualify for a block of VA benefits that, say, a current maintenance mechanic at Ft. Bragg will qualify for because the VA says the “Gulf War Time Period” is still ongoing. Go figure.
A few years ago, the stream of Viet Nam vets began as they hit that prime age for seeking out an elder law attorney. One had been a POW. His treatment was quite a bit rougher than that of my old (and now long deceased) former guest of the Germans.
One client flew Hueys in Viet Nam. Never talked too much about combat, but we did pickup a good term from him. My wife is an expert at “combat loading” our dishwasher. A combat load is maximizing every square inch, but wisely, so as to be able to get off the ground. That client is married to my wife’s sister. My cousin flew those, too. He didn’t come home.
The Gulf War
The other day, I had a first. Maybe I should call him a “vanguard” to use a more military term. My first Gulf War vet. Before I started law school I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia. Two large oil paintings of Saudi desert scenes hang in my conference room. If you’ve been (or currently are) a client, you know those paintings.
While I was talking with his wife, I noticed his gaze on one of the paintings. He seemed almost lost in the scene. By this point in the conference I learned he had a service connected disability.
“Gulf War? Iraq?” He seemed to snap back to the conference room. “Yes. It really does look like that, doesn’t it?”
We talked about our experiences. I worked some near the Iraqi border (King Khalid Military City) and well before the war. He was IN Iraq during the war. After we routed Hussein’s army, the US Army stockpiled huge amounts of captured ordnance near an Iraqi weapons depot at Khamisiya. The idea was to destroy the ordnance. Later we learned that some of the weapons destroyed in the “Khamisiya Explosion” (Google it, there are pictures online) contained toxic nerve agents. Thus, my new client’s disability.
We settled back into our mundane estate planning session, but he kept looking back up at that painting.
I’ve always felt a bit awkward. What are you supposed to say? “Thanks for your service” seems so trite. But we do appreciate you. And I have been privileged to serve a steady stream of you through my conference room over the past few decades.