The military veteran's experience is intense, emotional, personal, therefore unforgettable.
Through training of all sorts, one arrives at a binding sense of brotherhood. Combat and the memories of lost brothers magnify the intensity.
"Never have I felt as close to my wife or kids as I did with my brothers in combat," confided one Vietnam veteran. There is nothing like this sense of closeness in civilian life.
Thus, for veterans a loneliness in civilian life is inescapable, which no civilian can understand. This may be one reason there are so many suicides of veterans today. The emotional transition is hugely challenging.
Research shows the disconnect is so strong it can be buried for 30 years and then emerge as post-traumatic stress disorder, as happened with one Vietnam veteran friend.
The Sept. 26 Honor Flight for Lexington veterans, the renewal of long-forgotten memories, was a reminder of the profound disconnect between our military experiences and current civilian lives. The intensity of our military experience cannot compare with the ordinariness of our civilian lives ever since.
When we visited those war memorials in Washington, we remembered buddies of long ago and thought about the undeserved gift of life which we survivors enjoy. We are still stunned by the intensity, choking at the memories.
Ask most anyone, "What is a veteran?"
Most will answer, "Someone who served our country in the military."
Excuse me. This puts our service on the same level as anyone serving our country in government or politics.
Consider instead: "A veteran is someone who signed a blank check to Uncle Sam to put his life and limbs in harm's way, risking everything, to protect and preserve our freedoms." We surrendered control over our lives to join a great and awesome brotherhood.
To return to the Lexington airport to such an enthusiastic welcoming, long ranks of adults and children wanting to thank us for our service, was simply the most powerful experience of our lives. One veteran friend said: "I never felt so loved in my life."
Our hearts have never been so deeply moved as going through that tunnel of cheering humans, of all sorts, shapes, sizes and ages. Awesome.
Whoever organized this day and helped make it happen can scarcely imagine what it means to the long loneliness of us veterans. Unless they happen also to be veterans.
Thank you, Lexington. Thank you, Honor Flight chapter organizers and volunteers. Thank you to our assigned guardians for this trip. Thanks to all for making this such a deeply moving unforgettable experience.
We know, deep in our hearts, that we are the lucky survivors. To have someone, indeed, whole rows of people, hundreds, thank us for the price we and our brothers paid for our freedoms is moving beyond words.
For more information see: honorflightbluegrass.org.