Silent Salute: On this Memorial Day We Honor the Fallen, We Must Take Care of Their Surviving Comrades

“Thank you for your service.” These are words echoed by countless Americans as we express gratitude to the men and women of the US Military. These words take on an even bigger significance this weekend as we honor those who perished in wars throughout towns and cities around the United States. As we remember the countless men and women who sacrificed their lives, we must redouble our efforts to take care of their brothers and sisters who served their country only to come back home broken by wars.

The numbers are astounding, there are over 67,000 homeless veterans suffering the indignities of sleeping on concrete mattresses and panhandling in order to eat. Though people who serve in the US military account for less than 0.5% of the overall population, veterans account for 10% of the homeless population. This is an issue that is very personal to me because I witnessed first-hand the miseries destitute veterans endure during my own two-year bout with homelessness.

Those who are fortunate enough to adjust to society once they come back from conflict zones have to battle daily with demons that are invisible to our eyes but weigh heavy on their minds. PTSD makes life a living hell for veterans as the horrors they witnessed in war ricochet in their minds like a bullet in a tank as a car backfiring or an expected loud noise pierces peace and takes them right back in battle mode. On top of this constant strife, survivors’ guilt prevents many from having a good quality of life; their minds riddled and in angst with thoughts of friends they lost gashing at them like a ravenous hound.

Between poverty and hopelessness, too many veterans end up in dark places only to succumb to the vagaries of mental illness by ending their lives. Every 27 minutes, a veteran commits suicide. Yet, despite these grim realities, too many politicians are content with saying “thank you for your service” without doing anything to alleviate the burdens borne by veterans. In this way, patriotism has become a PR campaign used by the very war industry that is profiting from bloodshed while impoverishing the young men and women who put on the uniform.

It is time for politicians to put money where their mouths are by making sure we invest as much funds in health, wellness and empowerment programs dedicated to military personnel as we do in weapons that enrich Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and their ilk that profit handsomely every time a war is dropped throughout the world. Instead of intervening overseas and spending billions at a drop of a bucket to export weapon of mass destruction, let us take care of our home by properly caring for veterans.

I wrote the poem below during my stay at a homeless shelter in Wellington, Colorado called Harvest Farm. I am forever grateful for the many friends I made during that time who were veterans, even during their time of distress, they made it a point to lift me up when I was down. God speaks to us through strangers, as I honor the men and women who died in wars, I take this moment to say thank you to those who survived and continue to serve all of us. 

Silent Salute

To the soldiers who sacrificed
Did their duty without asking
I express outrage against injustice
Over immoral wars and endless carnage
I am speaking out for you in the process

Veterans in the end understand one thing
Their fellow men were never their enemy
To this day fierce rivals from past conflicts
Embrace after the last bullets have been fired
Soldiers salute and do their duty that is best

The sorrows they go through alone
Trauma induced by bodies and reduced humanity
Only to come back home and encounter Satan’s embrace
Flash backs prompting cold sweats
Bullets and blood droplets

Too much for the mind to process
Those who die in wars are fortunate
It’s the veterans, the survivors
Who carry the burdens of these remembrances
Fallen comrades and innocent children
Indiscriminately swallowed whole by turbulence
Tears mixing with blood stains
Cries drowned out by battle drums
War is humanity’s utmost blemish

Concealed by propaganda and theatrics
Patriotism birthing negligence
Our conscience is subverted into ignorance
As we enjoy disengagement’s bliss
Veterans suffer depression’s kiss
Politicians, profiteers and Hollywood
Glorifying war horrors by bending reality
Obfuscating suffering with special effects and rhetoric

But to the soldier their truth is the opposite
Rat-tat-tat-tat bullets shattering God’s presence
Untold masses disappearing into graves and silence
We wave flags thanking them for service
They shiver alone bearing the cost of compliance
Final judgments by way of triggers and buttons

Only to come back home
Shock and awe replaced by shock trauma
Nightmares that never end
Being continually transported back to mayhem
The battle field redrawn into the mind’s synapses
Piercing quietness with shrieks and terrors

Spouses who grow estranged
Children unable to comprehend
Concern pixelating into absence
Loneliness the only friend that remains
The proud and few become islands
Invisible wounds breaking cognizance
This is why so many end up homeless

Many more embracing suicide’s cuddle
Despair muffles life and blends into darkness
To be met by society’s mind numbing indifference
We step over them daily
Once warriors turned into the indigent
Salutes being returned with diffidence

Yet in this silence I stand for you
May God forever bless you
Where you are broken
May you mend into fullness

Sergeant Black in DC
Vietnam War survivor
Gunny Stevens in Greenville
Korean War survivor
Derrick in Colorado
Iraq War survivor
Frank in Ankeny Iowa
World War II survivor

Countless others who I have met
Had the honor of sharing meals with
May your struggles be fleeting
But your blessings be eternal
In silence I salute you