Remember, Remember November Forever
Photo by Ethan Hoover on Unsplash
November is here and with it comes quite a variety of commemorations and celebrations that start at the beginning of the month with a period known as Allhallowtide and come to an end later in the month when we celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. Allhallowtide occurs between October 31st and November 2nd and is thought to be a period in which the boundary between our world of the living and that of the otherworld is thought to be at its “thinnest” bringing us closer to those who have gone on before us and is considered the appropriate time to honor our dead. Locally, and in many cases worldwide, people commemorate All Saints Day, All Souls Day and/or Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
But for the most part, the month of November is also all about veterans. The term “veteran” as it relates to the military is reserved for those who have served on active duty in a military branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard) for at least 90 days during wartime or at least 180 days during peacetime and are now no longer serving on active duty. Veterans represent a large part of our population as, according to 2016 data from VA.gov, there are 22 million veterans, 2.2 million of which are female. It is also estimated that there are 1.4 million active-duty personnel, 204,00 of which are females, most of which will one day become veterans. And then there are also a contingent of people in the Selected Reserve Forces made up of the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and the Department of Homeland Security’s Coast Guard Reserve all of which total another 855,000.
While veterans come from various segments of the armed forces they also come from different times in our country’s history. There are no longer any living veterans from World War I as the last one, Florence Green, a British woman who served in the Royal Air Force, died in 2012 and the last American soldier, Frank Buckles, died in 2011. Both were 110 years of age when they died. In 2016 the US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics held that for World War II veterans, approximately 372 die every day, and based on that figure, a very rough estimate for 2018 would mean that of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II only 350,000 are now among the living.
From another facet of World War II, I was recently fortunate enough to hear a presentation by one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, Peter McDonald, who, along with other members of his tribe, had been recruited in 1942 by the US Marine Corps to help resolve the problem of military codes being quickly deciphered by the Japanese during the Pacific phase of the war. The contingent of Navajo recruits succeeded in developing a confidential code that was used and understood only among themselves and they have been credited with being instrumental in the US Marine’s success in overtaking the island of Iwo Jima. As of today, there are only 9 living Navajo Code Talker veterans remaining.
In a subsequent action, more than 1.7 million US troops were deployed to Korea during a Police Action that went on for years with US intervention starting from the middle of 1950 on into July of 1953 when hostilities finally slowed down. Although it has been referred to as such, the action in Korea was never officially declared a war and interestingly enough has not yet officially ended as unrest continued on into 1955. Today there are still approximately 2.25 million surviving veterans from the action in Korea. However, the relative peace did not really “take” in that part of the world as the Second Indo-China War, also known as the Vietnam War raged on in the Southeast Asia countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from 1955 until 1975. The combined forces of North Vietnam, Russia and China were determined to bring Communism to all of South Asia and, although US forces were present in the area for most of that time, it was not until 1965 that the United States formally entered the war to support South Vietnam, a support that included an estimated number of troops who actually served in Vietnam at 2.7 million. This conflict ended in May of 1975 when the forces of Communism were successful, and the US troops returned home. According to the VA, there were more than 6.6 million living Vietnam Veterans in 2014, just under 500,000 of them in Texas, more than any other state.
After a relatively peaceful period, the hostilities shifted to countries in the Middle East when Iraq invaded Kuwait during August of 1990 and was, six months later, driven out of Kuwait by US-led Coalition forces from the United Nations countries. Just under 695,000 US troops served as part of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm during that period and a little more than 690,000 veterans remain. For Americans, at least, things remained quiet until September 11, 2001, when we lost almost 3,000 people in the successful Al-Qaeda led attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and the unsuccessful attack on the White House. During the ‘War on Terror,” beginning with Operation Enduring Freedom which was directed against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban forces who shielded them, the US forces were quite successful in overcoming their enemies. Following a great number of battles, the Taliban was set back and democracy eventually came to Afghanistan.
During 2014 Afghan forces began to assume responsibility for their nation’s security and US troop withdrawal was started. However, by 2018, there has been a resurgence of the Taliban power and US troops will remain a factor in the area most likely for the extended future. Close to 2 million troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan though nearly half (about 977,500) of those have served more than one tour there so figures for these wars will be much harder to assign a specific number.
There is little doubt that war takes its toll, not only in the numbers of those killed or injured but also in terms how one is left feeling after the exposure to the conditions of war and especially away in a foreign land. Few can appreciate just what anyone comes away with after this very different and often times unwelcome experience when some lose friends and they are left unscathed. So, there is little wonder that returning veterans have a different idea of what is most important in life or of what should be uppermost in one’s mind. It has been estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, even when they have come home to a loving family, willing to support them but whom they recognize as not really understanding exactly how they feel.
And though those who have not been part of the military experience may feel that all the attention paid to our veterans is just so much hoopla, they should keep in mind that they are free to express those feelings because someone in the military stood against forces who would take that right away from them!