My grandfather was just 18 when he enlisted into the Army during the Vietnam War. He was a young black man from Los Angeles who had just graduated high school and followed his best friend, who joined the Air Force.
While my grandfather may have survived the war, around 90,220 of the men who went to Vietnam did not, many of them his own brothers-in-arms and many of them drafted against their will.
Memorial Day is a tribute to such fallen soldiers as those who have risked their lives fighting far from home, and in their sacrifice, they highlight the trials of their surviving compatriots who face deeper, more personal fights when they come back home.
However, we often do little to help them when they are back on familiar shores.
The crucible of war is often damaging to our brave soldiers who come back from the strife of battle, and they are often in need of a lot of support to help heal the ills, mental and physical, of warfare.
In Vietnam, my grandfather did two tours as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division of the Army and he served his country, by personal choice during a draft, that overwhelmingly discriminated against him merely for the color of his skin and bend of his hair.
Back then, segregation still hung on to the country in labored rasps of breath facing the march for social justice that had swept the culture of the ‘60s.
After he was done with his two tours my grandfather came back and married my grandmother. Soon after they were jettisoned off to civil rights era Fayetteville, North Carolina to be stationed on the local base.
In the South, my grandfather and grandmother faced prejudice based on the color of their skin, a stark yet despairingly unsurprising contrast in relation to his past military service, a task that is often idolized in totality in these areas of our country.
They were often denied service at dining establishments, pulled over for the color of their skin or being warned threateningly that this was not Los Angeles by law enforcement.
Not to mention, the general horrid reception all vets faced coming back from Vietnam. My grandfather had to face this prejudice from all sides.
However, he would also come to find himself assaulted by his very experience overseas in the war.
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, mental health awareness was terribly short because much less was known on the subject at the time.
After Vietnam, my grandfather overcompensated for the years he missed with vices that eventually led him to alcoholism. The aftermath of Vietnam that had claimed so many soldiers almost destroyed him at home, causing him to walk away from being a husband and father.
I often wonder what my life would be like had such a destabilizing circumstance not afflicted both my grandfather and father. Would I have had a father figure growing up if my own dad had not experienced the same longing?
My grandmother tells me about the times she would awaken to my grandfather caught in waking nightmares, abetted by his PTSD as if his very being could not possibly forget the terror he faced in the umbrage of the jungles in Vietnam.
Eventually my grandfather overcame the many shadows that clung to his back as a veteran, and though he has been sober for years, to this day he retains his habit of smoking and has an unsurprising need to always know where an exit may be out in public.
His struggles have wide reaching ramifications that still echo and influence his life and I’m sure many families with loved ones in the armed forces can relate.
The consequence of war is intrinsic to anyone who has lost someone to the perils of warfare, or have braved them and come back in need of our support as they have supported us.
The trials and hardships one man has faced over his life pales in comparison to the untold grief and suffering many of our vets go through.
As a nation, if we insist on being involved overseas in combat zones, if we insist on keeping our soldiers involved in others strife, for better or worse, if we insist on giving less and less avenues of prosperity for young people who find no choice but to join the military, then we must better understand what our veterans who have fallen in war.
In doing so, we can better realize what those who have survived go through to help heal the ills of the families affected in our country.