As a reader of this blog will have long since understood, I have a soft place in my heart for veterans. I’m one myself, and I share with others who have experienced military life—and particularly combat—a bond that is unbreakable.
Non-veterans cannot know or understand that bond or the life we have lived. To be in the military means to pledge one’s life in defense of others. To be in combat means to risk your life to save the life of the man fighting next to you. That bond among veterans feels universal to me, and the bond among combatants is the strongest bond I have ever experienced.
But these days, I meet fewer and fewer veterans. Those of us who matured before 1973 were subject to the draft. Some, like me, chose to volunteer rather than be drafted. That means that most American men born in 1955 or before saw military service. Far fewer enlisted after military service was no longer mandatory. By 1980, 18 percent of the U.S. population (both male and female) were veterans. Today it’s 7 percent. And the numbers will continue to decline.
As noted earlier in this blog, I cherish my military service. It taught me what I was capable of, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. It changed my life and prepared me for the thirteen years on and off in Vietnam as a civilian spy under cover. It made me ready to sacrifice my life for the people who worked for me and their families when Saigon fell in 1975.
So many men who matured after 1973 lack that experience and training. And I think that we as a people are poorer for that. Today, most of us don’t know what it means to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of others. That is a great loss.
As I have written here before, when veterans meet, there is a quiet understanding. Each of us knows what we share that others know not of. We don’t speak of it. We don’t have to. The bond is there.