Many ways to lose a life in war.

When I was little, my sister and I used to hunt down our Christmas presents like trained bloodhounds for the entire month of December.  We looked in very dark corners, searched the untouched attics, and destroyed any closet in our way.  We should have looked in our mom’s trunk, but we didn’t learn that until it was too late.

On one of my treasure hunts, I discovered an old, dusty rifle case that, based on its weight, still had an occupant.  Too afraid to open the case to find out, I asked my mom about this find.

“Your dad was in the army. He went to Vietnam, but that was long before you were around.” And that was the extent of our conversation.  My dad never mentioned his time in the service, and would only offer up vague details when asked directly.  I learned more from the VA office when my dad got sick than I ever learned directly from him.

There are many ways to lose a life in war.  Even if you come back with a beating heart and lungs that contract and expand, it’s possible to have left your life behind. The son who played football every waking moment that comes home without legs, a father who can’t work because night terrors grip him every time he closes his eyes, the mother that always imagined being a Girl Scout leader and soccer mom who suffers a traumatic brain injury and struggles with basic tasks of everyday.

Lives given in the name of war are far more than the body count. The casualties include soldiers, parents, siblings, spouses and children. We do a great thing by honoring those who have fallen, but we have much more work to do.  We need to help our returning vets and their families stand back up.  Replacing their former life is not possible, it is gone, but giving them a fighting chance at a new one is the least we can do.

My dad passed in 2009, and I honor his service today.  Not just the time he spent in the service, but the years he spent after, alone with his thoughts and memories that were not suitable to share with his children.   I honor the life he left behind, and thank him for soldiering on to be a great dad.

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