Veteran’s Day comes with mixed emotions in our home. I know for Sam it is a day of mixed feelings as well. This morning we started out by visiting our local radio stations to talk about Veteran’s Day, This Able Veteran, Memphis, and what it is we do and why we do what we do.
Sam is an Army Veteran. He served in the military from 2002-2013. I met Sam in his retirement phase from the military. What I knew about servicemembers was very little. The only connection I had was my grandfather, Jackie White, who served in the U.S. Navy.
In those early stages of getting to know someone and eventually date them, you start to learn bits and pieces, you start to see some habits or “quirks.” One thing I noticed about Sam is that he was a genuinely happy guy. Or so I thought. He seemed to enjoy his work and he was friendly. What I did not know is that deep down Sam struggled each day to get to work, put on a brave face, and do his job. What I also didn’t know is that Sam suffered from PTSD.
As I began to notice little things like never looking back in a crowd, sitting facing a door, or the closet exit, being overly aware of his surroundings, he slowly started to share with me a bit about his wartime experience. He had a little trouble opening up, sharing some deep things about deployments, but he would mention a mission, battle buddy, or memory here and there.
What some Veterans experience during the war is more than we can fathom and imagine. To see a young man or woman leave home is one thing, to support them while they are gone is another, but to be there when they return, well, that is something that we can work on.
I say that not to be rude, but to be honest. Sam is still returning home. I know what you may be thinking, “but Cathrine, he’s been out of the military for a while now.” Or, “why doesn’t he just get over it?” or “Can he move forward,” and then there’s “But he has you and a service dog.”
Yes, he does have me, his family, and the support of friends, but I don’t know that a Veteran ever really gets over their time of service. I don’t know that a day goes by that Sam doesn’t recall a memory, a smell, a mission, a deployment. I don’t know what war is like but I would imagine it is like hell.
Sam returned home a different person. He knew that each and every time he left for deployment in the middle of a school semester and came back to find that he had new classmates and new surroundings. Family functions became different, crowds, noise, closeness, that was and is still an adjustment.
While he has served and answered a call to his country, he is still processing those deployments and actions of war. Every night is a struggle, there could be a trigger at work or a panic attack at any moment. He might be retired, but there are memories of various events daily.
For Sam, he chose to serve. He did not choose to get injured, medically retired, or diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, moral injury, or severe back pain. He wasn’t thrilled he had to learn to walk again and at times have the assistance of a cane. He is not set for life because he has a retirement pension from the military or healthcare for free at the VA. He did not choose those things. If he had it his way he would still be in uniform, in the Army, serving his country.
Instead, he serves in other capacities. Most of you know Sam is employed by the VA where he serves as a Peer Counselor. He works with veterans from all eras to process their time in the military. He makes home visits (sometimes with and without Memphis). He leads groups where the conversations can be tense, and he works with Veterans to improve their quality of life.
While he does that, he faces demons every day. Just a few weeks ago we had a conversation about taking medication, something that Sam struggles with daily despite reminders on my phone, his phone, Alexa, and the kids. He said, “I would have taken my life a long time ago if I had not met you.” That shook me to my core because I so badly wanted to know Sam before the war, and during the time we met, he was really struggling with some personal demons of war.
He is not alone.
Each day is a battle. Every night is too.
I am thankful for another year in this thing called life with Sam. I know at times he wants to give up. I know at times he just wants to quit, but I admire him for his determination and his strength. He found TAV when he needed help the most, and because of that, he was blessed with Memphis. He has a family with three amazing kids that love him, and sadly will only ever know our country to be in the “forever war,” an intergenerational conflict that now spans three presidential administrations.
I am proud to be the wife of a Veteran. Proud to know many other Veterans, their families, their caregivers, and their stories. I cry when I hear Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” and I cry when I hear Sam speak of his time in the service to others. I get choked up knowing that our youngest, Oliver, will learn about the great and challenging things his dad did in the Army. I drive slowly through our small town, reading the names of the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the military and I have tears in my eyes during my drive. I get chills reading and listening to stories of other Veterans and their families.
So while today is recognized as Veteran’s Day, in our home, Veteran’s Day is every day. We love and appreciate the sacrifices Sam has made (and those of others as well). We know that military life is not easy, and we hope that by sharing our story, others may know that there is hope and there is a way to process these events.
We are proud. We are grateful, and we thank the men and women who serve this country and fight for us. We are proud of our own veteran and those who are in our family. We will never forget the great lengths they went to protect and serve.