The image that comes to most people’s mind when they imagine veterans, is that of venerable old men (and increasingly women), sitting with their medals showing, usually in a quiet room. Generally they are alone…
The story lasts a few minutes and then the news cycle moves onwards in its relentless attempt to keep us engaged.
Leaving the old men alone again.
Veterans are generally alone, as their friends have passed away. Some died in combat, in pain and suffering; some have died in the comfort of their homes surrounded by their families. We as a society venerate survivors, those who have passed through the crucible and have emerged unscathed.
At least physically. Mentally is often a very different story.
Some veterans can live their lives in inner turmoil for decades, with their families often bearing the brunt of their implacable angst. Really the only people who can really understand are those who have experienced the rigours of battle themselves. And with their comrades all aging at the same rate, our veteran is in an ever shrinking pool of people to whom he can turn to for support. The analogy of the Vietnam Veteran responding angrily to an uncomphrending questioner with the tropic line ‘YOU don’t know man, YOU weren’t there!’, has been rolled out time and again as a metaphor for the, sometimes surly, unreachable Veteran. Quite often there is truth in this; colleagues have described veterans from the First World War and the Ango-Irish War as being extremely reticent about recalling exploits to the uniniated civilian, often only doing so when their guard is lowered and also with the abuse of one or more substance.
So the next time you see a story about the last veteran from some conflict being described as “unkillable” perhaps take a moment to fully comprehend the ramifications of immortality and what you lose to achieve it