No more war, nevermore, forever
To the Veterans and to Those Who Served,
Never during my 32 years in the armed forces would I have ever been referred to as a veteran, nor – as far as I know – would anyone in the military. To our thinking a veteran is considered an honourable title, reserved only for those who have seen combat, those who have been fired upon and have fired a gun in anger. Everyone else, those – like myself – who served in times of peace and never faced an enemy, were referred to merely as “Those who Served.”
Early on in my first days of enlistment, all my instructors were veterans either from the Second World War or Korea. None of them would tell us stories of actual combat as to “what it was like,” not one of them answered silly questions like “did you ever kill anyone;” instead we were drilled in field training, first aid courses and lectures on how carelessness can kill. Each of us was taught the most important matters in combat: how to keep dry, how to mend socks and do laundry, how to lace boots properly, how to drill and safely handle weapons, the need to obey orders, how to find your way in the dark with a map and compass, how to survive and protect your friends. Our veteran instructors were always serious and knew what they were talking about because they’d seen terrible things; many had witnessed horrific scenes of battle, scenes they couldn’t talk about, nightmares they couldn’t stop remembering but wanted so desperately to forget. Not one of them wanted another war, not one glorified the need for war, not one talked of being heroic or brave.
Most of our instructors were heavy drinkers because they suffered from post traumatic stress disorder but they were living in a time when tears were construed as cowardice or shell-shock was concluded to be malingering; no wonder it seemed to so many that alcohol was their only solace. Of course, we laughed – what did we know? – when one of our veteran instructors instinctively dove for cover that time in the mess hall when a dozen dishes accidentally crashed and clattered to the floor.
Only indirectly did we learn some of their horrid experiences, veterans who witnessed friends suddenly winked out of existence or horribly maimed or mangled. Little wonder the nightmares; little wonder Vets prefer to speak only of the good times.
To me the “true” veterans will always be those who met the enemy in combat on a battlefield. Those fading few would be the first to anxiously pass along to us this advice: “No more war, nevermore, forever!” Lest We Forget.
Edward S. Burke