They were bombed at Pearl Harbor, survived D-Day, shivered in the bloodstained snow at the Battle of The Bulge, sweated in the Vietnamese jungles.
They are special, a breed apart. They are U.S. servicemen who served in combat. To save their country, they risked death or severe injury.
Their awards include the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
But those medals now may be packed away, as the former combatants suffer silently at home or in Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.
Many lead deceptively “normal” lives, but can they ever again be normal? Can they ever be what they were before their nation asked them to endure artillery fire, showers of machine gun bullets, torpedoes at sea, or antiaircraft shrapnel?
Despite their sacrifices, recognition comes hard. In both the public’s mind and the bureaucratic precincts of the Department of Veterans Affairs, they are almost always lumped with veterans who never strayed near a bomb or bullet.
Of course it’s not the fault of non-combat veterans that they were assigned to stateside units. They went where they were told, did what they were told.
I’m not advocating withdrawing benefits from non-combat veterans, but I do think it is critically important to understand that, as fate decreed, not all veterans are equal or alike.
Nothing — not all the medals nor all the benefits proffered under government regulations — can ever repay combat veterans for what they endured.
The public’s failure to recognize and understand the difference between combat and non-combat veterans bothers combat survivors. It’s a failure, even 50 years after World War II, to grasp the nature of warfare.
Every time a combat veteran is lumped with non-combat veterans in being pressured to produce records proving a disability, that veteran has been unfairly treated and discriminated against.
That has been happening since World War II. Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucrats who don’t grasp the nature of combat routinely push combatants to produce some proof that a disability is combat-related and when told that no records were kept, nor could they be on the frontlines unless the soldier was evacuated to a hospital, the bureaucrats are suspicious.
For example, one member of the local chapter of The Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge was ordered to prove his hearing disability was service-connected.
Asked by the V.A., bureaucrat why he didn’t report ringing ears to his commanding officer after an artillery barrage, the combat veteran replied, “My commanding officer was dead.”
This attitude persists in the upper reaches of governments on both the local and national levels. “There must be a record somewhere,” the misguided bureaucrats insist.
I can speak only about the conflict in which I served — World War II. If anyone can find an injury record kept on the frontlines in that war (except for soldiers evacuated to a hospital), I’ll relent.
Not only are combat veterans fundamentally different from other veterans, not only do they merit special enduring appreciation, not only should they be freely treated for all their ills service- connected or not throughout their lives, but they also can never be repaid or rewarded, and therefore should receive the best medical treatment, the most honors and recognition that this country can offer – until they die.
This article was originally published in the
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
on November 11th, 1999, and subsequently
appeared in the March 2000 issue of
the Golden Acorn News.