November 11, 2013

At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, America observes Veterans Day. This marks when the artillery finally fell silent in Europe, ending the ungodly butchery of the First World War.

Only in recent years have many veterans of America's seemingly nonstop wars felt safe to acknowledge their sacrifice and service. Iraq and Afghanistan provided the tipping points.

Some now take advantage of long overdue kindnesses being offered, such as complimentary Veterans Day lunches and dinners.

After Vietnam, many drug-crazed, violence-prone returnees, as we were called, kept our heads down, keeping quiet about our service.

We were mindful of the public anger directed our way, as if we were to blame for the debacle in Southeast Asia, and not the grandees in Washington.

Our welcome home committee back then consisted of longhairs camped out at San Francisco International Airport.

They spent their days getting high and jeering returning GIs and Marines who got off the buses and out of the taxis that delivered them from the Freedom Bird that landed at Travis Air Force base near Sacramento, Calif.

They brushed aside the taunts as they embarked on the next leg of their re-entry into civilian life. Those were the days.

Many Vietnam-era troopers and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans still struggle. War can break people.

Thank heaven for Veterans Affairs. Many warriors would be much worse off without the VA and its health care, despite Jon Stewart's quarterly rants.

Some of us are now learning to shake off our anger when some well-intentioned person says, 45 years too late, "Thank you for your service." Thank you, indeed.

(Bob Pfohman is editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Portland, Ore., Archdiocese.)