View From Table 9

September 29, 2007

Heroes, Soldiers and Doing Your Job

Filed under: Uncategorized — table9 @ 12:58 pm
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Hero (def):

  • a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength; “RAF pilots were the heroes of the Battle of Britain”
  • the principal character in a play or movie or novel or poem
  • champion: someone who fights for a cause
  • Greek mathematician and inventor who devised a way to determine the area of a triangle and who described various mechanical devices (first century)
  • (classical mythology) a being of great strength and courage celebrated for bold exploits; often the offspring of a mortal and a god
  • (Greek mythology) priestess of Aphrodite who killed herself when her lover Leander drowned while trying to swim the Hellespont to see her
  • bomber: a large sandwich made of a long crusty roll split lengthwise and filled with meats and cheese (and tomato and onion and lettuce and condiments); different names are used in different sections of the United States
  • Several months ago, my husband, who is USN/RET, was approached by our next-door neighbor, a WWII vet who flies a flag for his shipmates, asking if Steve was going to march in the annual Memorial Day parade as he was a Veteran.

    Steve declined, though not directly. “I just did my job.” was what he said to me.

    So, we go to the parade, because our 5 year old loves parades and fire trucks and police cars and such. I notice – all the veterans in this parade are old – Korea vets being the youngest of the bunch – and there overall are pitifully few of them.

    This sets my mind wandering. Steve has also said to me “I hate it when people say ‘thank you’ to me for serving.” Why? “Because I did my job, that’s all. I did what I signed up to do.”

    I wonder when that changed – from being proud to march down the street, allowing people to see you and cheer (hopefully) for you to “just doing my job.”

    I’ve also heard so many refer to our troops as heroes. Support our Heroes, Support our Troops. The odd part is that our troops themselves, at least the guys I know, almost universally say the same thing Steve does – “I just did my job.” Yes, even the transverse parapalegic taken out by a sniper friend. He scoffs and chafes at being called a ‘hero’ almost as much as he rants about the VA. He was just a guy on patrol who got hit by an unlucky shot, when you ask him.

    See, the thing is, to call someone a hero is to in many ways marginalize what they really are – people doing a job. I think we have overused this word to where it’s nearly meaningless. “Heroic survivors of 9/11”- they got out, thank God. Were they Heroic? Are firefighters doing their job? Police officers? Doctors? Or are they Heroes we should thank then ignore? I think we’ve diluted this and at the same time used it to allow ourselves to ignore the horrors these soldiers and sailors endure in our names.

    So I wonder about ‘doing the job.’ When did this shift? I think when we moved from the draft system – responding to our Country’s call in its’ time of Need – to the volunteer ‘be all you can be’ system. I noticed this when I observed no one under the age of 60 walking down the main streets, waving to the crowds. Those over 60s really did respond to the Call, like it or not.

    I have heard as well in the community that soldiers don’t have the right to object or complain because, well, they signed up voluntarily for the job, right? So they should not complain that what they’re being asked to do is not just, that the equipment they have is poor, that their tours are endless and the conditions deplorable, because, well, they asked for it.

    This floors me. Really. This amazing dichotomy, that marginalizes and devalues and creates a separate ‘warrior class’ from the mainstream. We celebrate their heroism while devaluing their sacrifice. I am amazed, especially now living in a non-military community, how disconnected we have become from that which is being fought in our names. We are invisible, except in the patronizing rhetoric.

    So, I’ve asked Steve to march next year, to show his son and those watching, that veterans, soldiers and their families live amongst us all. They’re not just old guys from WWII, they’re young men and women, looking curiously a lot like the rest of us. That they did their job, and their job was difficult in ways no other is. They could not quit (something Steve found amazing on the ‘outside’ that he could do), nor did they. They did what was asked of them, and for that should be seen.

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