When Giants Fall
by James Eyler
When service members join the ranks of the military, they raise their hands to swear in and take upon themselves the enormous weight of the security of the nation. Its burden is only overshadowed by its selflessness and the honor of volunteering to serve—to offer one’s life as payment for freedom. Inevitably, one way or another, that service must end for all military personnel. For the fortunate, they sign their name on their last day, are given a piece of paper, and told to have a nice life. On that day, after the novelty of newfound freedom fades, a single question invades their thoughts: Now what? As that question begins to predominate their mind, so does a sense they’ve not felt since their first days of boot camp—totally lost. For years/decades, they’d been told how and when to do almost every aspect of their lives, and now…go forth and prosper? Okay, where is this ‘prosper’ you speak of, and what time is formation?
Years swell to decades and memories fade, but for many veterans the feelings of profound responsibility weigh steadfast on their shoulders—the same motivation that distinguishes great leaders from chaff. However, now the brothers and sisters that fueled their motivation and gave the weight a reason are no longer there. So, veterans offer their war stories to appreciative audiences that listen with awe and shower the veterans with praise and shots of whiskey. But underneath the smile creasing the veteran’s face, deep behind their confident, piercing eyes is pain; bitter agony constrained like Poseidon’s Kraken, because they realize that the sentiment-made-cliché now rings hauntingly pure and true: You wouldn’t know; you weren’t there. The only people that could possibly understand are gone because of distance in one form or another. Fleeting moments of camaraderie sparkle in their lives as they pass upon fellow service members. But the fuel that once motivated them through their most passionate moments of life wanes to a flickering candle flame as they trudge through life, plagued by more than the sensationalized horrors of war. How do you find passion when you’ve been exposed to the most passionate year a human can experience? Likewise, how do you find excitement in the kiddy rides when you’ve ridden the GateKeeper roller coaster at Cedar Point? Sure the nostalgia might pull a smile for a minute or two, but as you realize you’ll never ride the GateKeeper again, the smile melts. Not all veterans feel such profound responsibility toward each other, but then again, not all veterans end their own trudge through life. For some, the distance of their comrades along with their inability to find their way out of the kiddy rides is too much to bear. Many current nonprofit organizations provide fantastic assistance to veterans—medical care, legal assistance, fairs and shows that increase awareness, housing assistance, etc.—but with the continued highest group rate of suicide, the organizations seem to fall short in providing certain aspects of life many veterans are unable to provide for themselves, which are the very things stripped from them on the moment of their ETS—direction, responsibility, and camaraderie.
Where is this ‘prosperity’ you speak of? Currently it’s wherever they stumble upon that gives that lingering weight of responsibility an outlet. Some are lucky enough to discover a way to provide it with a purpose, but an alarming many end their search early. But maybe one day that will change. Maybe one day, veterans will have a beacon to guide them to a place that provides the outlets and feelings of purpose they need.