Tag Archives: veterans

In the season of gratitude, is “thank you” enough?

This is the season for gratitude. From Veteran’s Day through the many faith-based celebrations clustered around the turning of the year, it is a time when we at least try to look beyond the glitter and find a reason to be grateful, a reason to have hope. In that spirit, now and through the year, we find ourselves wanting to thank those we feel helped to make this life possible. I often hear a brief conversation, a sentence or two at an event, that acknowledges the service of a veteran. Each time such brief moments make my heart hurt. I’m sorry, but “thank you” is not enough.

Photo by Mike Hashisaki, Plains, MT

My teen years were spent in the Vietnam era. I lived in a city that was surrounded by military bases and the cost of that commitment contributed much to how I perceive the world. There are those that will tell you it is mere urban legend that if our troops wore their uniforms when returning from active duty, they risked ridicule and abuse. No, no legend. I was there. Whatever my thoughts were on why we were there and how the “military action” was executed, I wept when I saw those who had suffered so much, who came home broken in ways not always obvious, abused in their own country. This is the root of my issue with “thank you for your service.” Even for today’s vets, it is not enough.

I like to find ways to actively pursue solutions, ways to help. I am a fixer, but I also like to be effective. Growing up with veterans, I learned a great deal of what went on in their heads, and I wanted to help. That sometimes requires finding out from the source of your compassion just what it is that is needed. Sometimes we get it right.

Veterans in this country face horrific statistics. According to the NIH in a report published on the Department of Veteran Affairs website, 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in fiscal 2018. Programs included treatment for PTSS, substance use disorders, behavioral problems and a host of other issues. This number includes only those that accessed VA resources.

The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the Department of Veteran Affairs notes that 6,000 vets commit suicide each year. This crosses gender and age boundaries. That is an average of 16 men and women each and every day.

While you are saying “thank you” to the spiffy looking fellow in a uniform at the local restaurant, are you thinking of the scruffy fellow on the sidewalk that hasn’t had a bath in who knows when? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 9% of the homeless population in this country is made up of vets. Some 37,878 broken spirits; men and women who just don’t see a way to cope in society. Some, of course, choose to separate themselves from a society and a culture that cannot comprehend the places they’ve been and the things they have seen.

Doing what I do, even after years of accumulated stories and nights sitting up with friends dealing with things that would not leave their heads, I still felt it necessary to do the research. I asked a friend of mine if I could visit one evening and grill her husband on what he saw as the greatest need for vets today. His answer might surprise you; education and job placement support.

The GI Bill, established to provide help for education in trades or professions is an elusive benefit that changes with when you served, how long, and where. Vietnam was a battle ground between the president and congress and the legal status of Vets in the conflict was ambiguous at best. This impacted many of the benefits which may have been available to men and women who served in that theater.

The other issue he noted was job placement assistance. He felt that the least the military branches could do was to help veterans transition into civilian life. Knowing how to blow things up is not always a useful civilian skill. Leadership skills, logistics, technology, mechanics, construction, and a myriad of other skills most certainly are. During my interview he expressed his frustration when he returned home after his first term of service. He thought he was only suited for jobs in the security sector. Never really finding the right fit, he finally elected to re-enlist in a different branch. His second time home he was lucky. His mother-in-law pointed out that all of his time as a leader in the military had trained him as a manager. He applied to a position and found a new career. Even if a veteran had a solid career before serving, that job may no longer be a fit.

I don’t think it is important to find the perfect job. However, it is important to find a place that reconnects a person to society and gives them some sense of being of use, some sense of belonging. Part of transitioning to civilian life is adjusting to a less intense more loosely associated culture than the intense life or death relationships of foreign service. Success occurs in degrees; failure can be deadly.

Above all, we spend millions training our military personnel to do damage to others. That is what war is. Although we deploy to a few “nation building” exercises, such deployment often occurs in hostile environments. Even when stationed with allies, our military people are usually not culturally assimilated by the host nation. Military service is an intense training course on how NOT to deal with the society in which you find yourself. Then you come home, and there is no one there that can begin to understand that separation from the wider world while becoming ever more dependent on highly disciplined, insular core group.

Where does one go to help with such things? Not everyone has time (but some do), not everyone has money to donate (but some do). Sometimes it is a matter of letting someone know that there is a resource out there, they just need to reach out. Such as we have, we give – that’s why “thank you” is never quite enough.

With a little research, I found several organizations that specialize in job assessment and placement. Remember, the local VFW and American Legion posts are always willing to help sort things out. Both the VFW and American Legion often have counselors and staff to help a vet find the help needed. Local posts can be found on the websites (https://www.vfw.org/ and https://www.legion.org/).

Also, check out these links for information on how to get careers shifted back to a civilian focus.


There are other ways to be proactive. There are many organizations that do amazing things such as providing companion dogs, offering financial assistance and counseling, and providing mental health services. There is also support such as Music Corp, Wounded Warrior Project, and Honor Flight. Final Salute is an organization that focuses on homeless women vets and their children. This season make it a point to find a better thank you.



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Bringing History Alive ~ And Discovering Your Own Past

Even when you love history, the task of picking some subject small enough to fit in a book but large enough to engage a reader can sometimes be quite a task.  The shear volume of information that we have about the past can be overwhelming, and yet there is more to learn, more to capture, more to place in a setting that helps us understand more of where we come from and where we are going to.  One of my very best friends ever has taken this task to heart.  Drawn by her love of the book she has written a couple of small books about her experience as a wife coping with Alzheimer’s and her experience as a book seller.  Now she brings us a taste of what it was like to live at the turn of the last century.  What it meant to fight in the Spanish-American War and World War I.  What it meant to live in an America still finding its way in the world.  The product of that journey is Wild Hay, Wild Hairs and Shell Shock.  I asked her to tell me something of her journey to her great-grandfather’s life and times.

CraigieCoverSmI don’t look at myself as the author of Wild Hay, Wild Hairs and Shell Shock; rather something of an interpreter and translator, as well as an editor. To me, Charles Henry Craigie is the true author. He was my great-grandfather by marriage and he left his family with the treasure of his thoughts.

Craigie’s notes were left in the form of a draft manuscript without punctuation or paragraphing. As I typed the work before me, there were times when the whole meaning would be confusing. Suddenly a light would dawn as soon as I switched punctuation and words would fall into order in different sentences or phrases.

Included in the punctuation puzzlements were quotations (without quote marks), many of which involved dialogue. Thus, separating his own writing from his remembered conversations became another challenge.

One curiosity with this manuscript is that Craigie grew up in an era of alphabet sounds (not yet referred to as phonics); his spelling wasn’t of overall importance to him. He simply spelled things the way he heard them. Couple that with penciled, difficult-to-read handwriting on browning, brittle paper, and there you have a picture.

My mother, Sharon Smither-McFarland, had typed up the manuscript in 1999. Having her comb-bound copy in hand, I would go back and forth between Craigie’s original and Mom’s manuscript. Many times, a combination of the two or three (counting my own) ways of looking at his words would spark something of an “Oh” moment. Then I’d be on to changing punctuation (or paragraphing) around again. Without Mom’s initial efforts, I would still be working on this project.

I did succeed in keeping the majority of Craigie’s sentences in the word order he had written them with few exceptions. CraigiePicUniformSmA lot of his philosophical paragraphs and thoughts ended up at the end as Chapter 11. Some just did not fit in with his narrative. In this way, Chapter 11 became my concoction of Craigie’s thoughts.

Because this story isn’t “mine,” I didn’t change anything in his intended narrative. It wasn’t mine to rewrite in that sense. It was only mine to translate for the reader.

Since a lot of his story concerned places-in-time, I wanted accuracy. In order to make sure I reported his story accurately I researched things as detailed as street names in Minneapolis. He grew up and worked in the farm country of Minnesota and the Dakotas and again, it took research to following his narrative. I also researched the places that seemed pivotal to his narrative as a verification of history.

Verifying places in a historical context had me looking up modern and older maps in order to take his words and translate them to places he had been in America and abroad. When it came to his involvement in the Spanish-American War I spent some time learning about the Philippines. I also researched places of importance in the British Isles and France during the time of World War I.

Craigie’s spelling became especially difficult to interpret as he entered his World War I chapter. He seemed to enjoy throwing in some French words here and there, as well as referring to French places. I was getting lost with that research and enlisted the help of my sister, Kelly McFarland-Sellers. Her background in French helped me resolve what he was trying to say.

What I left out of my manuscript were his repetitions. Keeping in mind, this had never before gotten beyond draft form; Craigie was very good at repeating himself. Not wanting to bore the readers, I started to chop a lot of the repeats; especially the clichés, although I didn’t feel it was my right to drop the cliché entirely from his book. It was part of his style and a more acceptable part of his era than ours.

As far as photographs go, I ended up choosing only one, and that is the one of Craigie which was used on the cover of the book, in uniform, with his abundant, white, shell-shock hair. For some reason, the family pictures of Charles with my great-grandmother Lula Belle, in the end, didn’t seem appropriate for the public book.

As you can see, sometimes something as simple as finding your own story can help other see a piece of history they would not have known.  As it happens, Connie’s little book has made it into the top 20 of Amazon’s Hot new Releases in Military/Veterans!  Touch the past, and find the future.

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