Editorial: Some scars stay hidden
At 107, Frank Buckles still vividly recalls fighting in the war to end all wars ó and he has witnessed the wars that followed.
Today, as the nation pauses to honor its veterans, Buckles is the last known surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, which ended 90 years ago today with the signing of the armistice in Paris. “The world awakes to find the world safe for democracy,” one article said at the time.
Today, with our nation fighting on two fronts, we can’t celebrate peace, but we can and should celebrate the fact that in America, we continue to enjoy the blessings of freedom, thanks to all of those like Frank Buckles who have defended our liberties and ideals by serving their nation in uniform. Today, the United States has approximately 23.6 million military veterans. They include War War II and Korean War veterans, whose numbers are rapidly dwindling; Vietnam-era veterans and those who fought in the previous Gulf War and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As all of these veterans know, making the world safe for democracy isn’t a once-in-history mission. It’s an ongoing struggle that U.S. servicemen and servicewomen conduct in a variety of ways beyond combat, from patrolling the world’s seas to rebuilding roads and schools in war-torn lands.
We know about the sacrifices of the soldiers who never return from the battlefield, or who return with severe physical injuries. But even for those who return home physically whole, the battles often continue. It’s estimated that on any given night in America, 200,000 veterans are homeless, many because of psychological trauma they suffered during their service. Of the 1.7 million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as many as one-fifth suffer from anxiety, depression and other emotional problems. And in a sign of the lingering stigma associated with such trauma, many of those ó perhaps even half ó who need help are not seeking it, studies have indicated.
So as we pause today to salute centenarian Frank Buckles and all of those who’ve sustained our nation through some of its darkest hours, let’s remember that hidden scars can continue their afflictions long after the guns fall silent and the battlefield is left behind. As President Bush said in the proclamation for Veterans Day 2008, let us “not only give time to reflect on the fallen soldiers who unselfishly gave their lives for us” but also “give thanks to a veteran and pray for those who are in constant battle against addictions and post traumatic stress disorder.”