This is another excerpt from “Am I a Hero?”, a book written by my recently deceased dad that was never published, but I hope will give insight into a man, his return from WWII, and his early life to those of us who loved him and or were related to him. I also am picking selections which are particularly timeless, because in America at least, these are issues we are facing again, over seventy years later. To the vets and their families reading this, know that this is also for you. So you understand. Or at least have an insight on why it is so hard for “civilians” in general to understand how and what to do to really “bring you home.”
About Civilians In General and Relatives in Particular
by Arnold F. Arnold, circa 1944/45
I see them coming into the hospital wards. They walk down the corridors in single file with funereal solemnity, looking for the familiar faces.
They are frightened by the bedlam of exuberant GIs, overawed by the efficiency of the nurses and the whiteness of the walls.
They are cowed by the cheerfulness with which we ‘heroes’ bear our lot. When I first saw them, I knew it is the civilian, not the the vet, who must readjust themselves.
After finding me, or anyone, by the relative or the friend, they plunk down next to our beds either speechless or with a waterfall of gibbering words which are usually hollow and meaningless. There they sit, either constantly talking or endlessly silent, and inevitably stacked with packages of things, brought without purpose, but that one is required by “duty” to take to someone who is sick.
They leave again in that same solemn single file procession, shaking their heads as if they came from a funeral.
Chaperoned daughters are brought to the bedsides of their betrothed, who lies helpless and hampered by pulleys and levers in traction. They sit around and sit around and won’t leave us alone, lest they hold hands.
They sit around and sit around and want to know things constantly, or else they don’t want to know anything with finality. They sit around and tell me things about other relatives, and other friends, and friends of friends and about instances which are foolish and insignificant.
They will tell you all their small troubles and their little meanesses, and tiny injustices which happen to them, and isn’t it awful, and isn’t it terrible, and what can you do and what do you know?
They have missed everything and they are so secure. They don’t know that their security hangs by such a small thread.
We know different. Even if we don’t say just how or why. These others are nothing to us anymore, whom we thought were our best friends and closest relatives.
They just don’t know.
I would rather talk to the boy in the next bed because he knows what I know and he has seen what I have seen. He doesn’t care about the little things. He knows the important details of our lives. When do we eat. When do we sleep. When is the war going to be over? When are we going to get out, have a job, and settle down and be left in peace?
All these other people with their “And do you know what I said to him when he said that to me?” seldom come back for a second visit.
They leave and feel dissatisfied because the boy they used to know is so different and distant and hard to talk to.
They go back home and they say to their friends and relatives:
“And do you know what he said to me?”
Or “Aren’t you glad that we came to see you?”
Or “Bless me, if he didn’t say ‘I’m so overjoyed to see you. Sure I’m glad you came.’”
All I can think to myself is, “When is your next train home?”
- In Memorium: Arnold F. Arnold (born Schmitz), 1921 – 2012 (greentaxisnow.com)
- A Salute to the Un-Sung Veterans (sofarfromheaven.com)
- Why Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are finding civilian reentry harder (csmonitor.com)
- A Veteran I Was Fortunate To KnowVeterans Day Open Thread (minx.cc)
- Welcome Back: Adjusting to Civilian Life after Military Service (everydaysociologyblog.com)