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Carrol Vertrees: Some war-related wounds not exclusive to those who fight

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: December 16, 2012 2:44AM



When I was a kid, many moons ago in our little rural homestead, I got a nifty, memorable Christmas gift: an Indian outfit topped off by a colorful feather headdress.

My brother, a bit older, got a nice cowboy outfit. Even in that culture, when picture shows and stories made cowboys the good guys and the Indians savages, my brother and I enjoyed relative peace on our little shared reservation.

I think of that as another Christmas approaches. And it comes back to me as I look at a photograph of our younger son and his mother standing on a benign hillside overlooking the site of a historical event called The Battle of Little Bighorn, Custer’s Last Stand and what the Indians called The Battle of Greasy Grass.

A nearby store offered mementos. I looked at a deck of cards. Made in China. No deal.

In my simple view as a kid, one I cannot shake, the Indian wars were a case of Indians living on land the new country wanted.

I often dodge reality, but the memory of that Indian suit muddles my view of history. The word from Washington was that we were going west “to Christianize the Indians.” A cruel irony. I hope the men were not singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they headed out to battle. Armed soldiers are miscast as Christian missionaries. The soldiers, though, were doing their duty.

As I look at the photograph, my son and his mom standing on a peaceful setting that marks a horrendous battle, I wonder what people through the ages have thought as they look at peaceful surroundings that once reverberated with the sounds of gunfire, screams of the wounded, the stillness as men fell.

What lessons do we receive when we view military cemeteries and memorials?

They may inspire us, and bring tears. They should force us to ponder where we have failed — this season is a time to get serious about that.

What about today? Our fighting men and women come home, some grievously wounded physically and mentally. In one Marine unit, one in two carries debilitating psychological wounds. Homeless, jobless. They were off doing their duty. Now what is their future?

One report said that self harm is a leading cause of death for members of the Army.

Many veterans suffer from what is called “moral injury.” They feel guilt over killing.

If there is a guilt over the hell of these wars, then we back home must share it, because the fighting men and women are doing this in our name. We should not wait for history to memorialize them. It is hard to accept that truth. Dead wrong to ignore it.

I am an aging vet who cannot begin to comprehend the meaning of it all. The background of that Bighorn photo shows a blue sky and friendly hills. It reminds me of the Christmas so long ago when I wore that Indian outfit. Peaceful memories, fitting the season.

But this is only a temporary respite from facing reality — we have a lot of work to do. Like understanding what “moral injury” really is. Are we civilians immune?



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