Veteran’s Day: Reflections from a US Vet

I am honored to again share Rick Zimmerman’s writing as a Melibee guest blogger.  Rick proudly served in the US military. I asked him to share his thoughts about Veteran’s Day, keeping in mind that many of our readers are not from the US and many may not be fans of US policy.  I think he did a beautiful job reflecting on what Veteran’s Day means to him.  Read on….

Rick Zimmerman serving in Panama

As a child, I was fascinated by the military. There was NASA’s race to the moon.  The Vietnam War played out on nightly television. I watched World War II dramas and characters fresh from that war were the protagonists I wanted to be when I grew up.

It was even more personal than that. My eldest brother joined the Air Force as a medic. My father has walked away from a baseball career to serve in the Navy in WWII. My father’s brother, as well as my mother’s brothers served. All of their male friends apparently served. In my mind, that was what grown-ups did. Then they came home and had kids and never talked about it.

It changed one day. One of my cousins died in Vietnam. Last assignment before heading to Hawaii to see his child for the very first time; he didn’t make it. I didn’t digest that bit of news very well. How does a 10-year old comprehend death and heroism?

Yet, looking around at my G.I. Joe “action figures,” I knew I wanted, no, I had to do that. It was, after all, what men did.

By my late teens and early 20s, I was not so sure anymore. My generation had developed a disdain for “obeying orders.” We did not like to be uniform. We were uniformly agreed. I did not see myself going through Boot Camp. What a nightmare.

But the child inside of me that revered those men from way back when never went away. His concept of manhood, duty and, well, adventure was screaming to get out.

Serendipity brought me in contact with Army recruiters in Colorado Springs, Co. in 1987. I was working as a “hand” at a small ranch. I was surrounded by men, young and old, who had served the country proudly. It was what men did. The dam, once contained, began to overflow.

I stopped at a convenience store on the way home and spotted two soldiers in their ‘battle dress uniforms,” standing in front of the recruiting station. I could not escape that nagging feeling that these were “real men.” It was what men did.

So I went over and started a conversation.

But in those years between childhood and this twenty-something ranch hand, I had very little knowledge of what the Army did. I was a blank slate but for what the media portrayed. Memorial and Veterans Days were holidays. Vietnam veterans had not received a hero’s welcome home. My parent’s generation did not speak of the war outside of general terms.

I was a virtual blank slate. So I needed a bit of 411.

Veterans Day had once been called Armistice Day and honored the veterans of the First World War – the “War to End All Wars.” It ended in 1918 on the 11th day, of the 11th month, at the 11th hour,  with Germany signing the Armistice. It had been a war without peer. Two European alliances battled across Europe, parts of Africa and Asia with scale of destruction that still defies comprehension.

Germany, the Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empires and Bulgaria faced off again the British Empire, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia and the United States. There was virtually no part of the globe that remained untouched by this conflict. There were more than 65 million combatants on land, sea and in the air.

It is estimated that 10 million died and 20 million wounded on the battlefield.  That was no typo. I did mean MILLIONS.

This also marked the United States debut on the global stage and the curtain call on the Age of European Empire. America honors its veterans of this horrific conflict.

Is this what men did? It boggles the mind.

In the years that followed, I participated in disaster relief in the Philippines, building a hospital in a small Islamic country in southern Africa, bringing medical relief to rural areas in Thailand, topple a dictator, and kept families with loved ones in harm’s way informed. It was not like the movies.

I didn’t know the US military was logistical support for global disaster relief. I didn’t know we were the go-to-guys for evacuations out of hot spots.  I had not known about the medical and veterinary programs for developing countries. I did not know we built roads where they were once thought impossible. I was surprised that we built and supplied hospitals in far flung corners of the world. I was most surprised by the fact that little of this is discussed, or even brought up, by the media. They seem to prefer the mistakes. Yeah. That, they like.

The US military is spread out across the globe. Their missions are varied and vast. It is not, as I once heard expressed “just to police and break things.” The military has been called “the angry voice of diplomacy.” But they are more than that. They are mothers and fathers. They are sons and daughters. They have families to raise. They pay taxes and worry about car payments. They think about what to feed their kids that night. They wonder about the future. And, yes, they fight our wars so we can all sleep safely in our own beds at night.

Ah. So this is what men and women DO.

Today is Veterans Day and I am grateful to every man and woman who have put on that uniform .

“I do not intend for ‘honor, courage, and commitment’ to be just words; I expect them to frame the way that we live and act. ” Charles C. Krulak, 31st Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps

 

Rick Zimmerman

About the Author: Rick Zimmerman is a consultant, trainer/facilitator and educator. He began his international career as a military journalist and public affairs specialist and has lived and worked across Asia, Latin America and Africa. With a degree in Diplomacy and International Relations from Seton Hall’s Whitehead School, he traveled to India to do research and took a consulting/teaching job at the Centre for American Education (now known as ICMIS). This led to his work there as a corporate trainer in communications and crossing the cultural divide. He believes that curiosity is both a blessing and a curse, but it is also absolutely essential for those who dare to attempt addressing the bridge.

  • thank you for something other than the usual alienating veterans’ day lockstep and blather. i learned several things i didnt know before from this post…thanks.

  • Rick is a fabulous writer and even more interesting in person. He is heading back to India soon (cross cultural trainer) and we have an open invite! 🙂 Totally agree with your comment – I asked him to write with an int’l audience in mind – knowing that many don’t care for the US’s foreign policy.

  • Roger Barnstead

    I have always admired Rick, he is a life long friend and I was never so glad as when we met as members of the US Military!