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July 4, 2009
Since my move from the West, it’s been one highlight of life on the East. California just doesn’t celebrate the 4th of July like Washington, D.C.
The fundamentals are the same: fireworks, BBQ, kids in shorts running around with sparklers – it’s all very Norman Rockwell.
But maybe it’s the proximity to the monuments and state buildings, maybe it’s the salience of history in the air, maybe it’s easier to feel patriotism in the nation’s capitol – whatever it is, it permeates the holiday with a spirit not as easily felt 3000 miles away.
This year, the spirit is laced with a bittersweet melancholy, as we celebrate the nation’s independence while American soldiers are abroad at war.
June 30, 2009 marks the withdrawal of a significant number of American troops in Iraq, as reported by the New York Times. While some troops will remain until 2011, the story suggests that soldiers have made major steps to dismantle the American presence in the region.
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan rages on; earlier this year, President Obama nearly doubled the number of troops in the country. News reports suggest that the conflict continues unabated, and soldiers seem to suffer both physical and emotional consequences.
Moreover, troubles don’t always stop at home.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times published a story about homelessness among veterans of the current conflicts.
From the Los Angeles Times article: “While veterans and homeless advocates have long grappled with homelessness in previous generations of veterans, Pinto appears to be part of a new, building wave of the problem among those coming back from the latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The writer goes on to interview shelter providers and one Vietnam veteran who suggest that the number of veterans seeking shelter and support after the current conflicts are not only rising, but that they’re facing the same physical and emotional challenges that haunted the older generation of war veterans.
From the article: “It reminds me of me all over again,” [Vietnam veteran Robert] Hovis said. “I know what they’re going through.”
And just yesterday, I found a CNN transcript of an interview with Secretary Tammy Duckworth in which she described current rates of addiction, homelessness, and PTSD among veterans of our current conflicts abroad.
Approximately one-quarter of the American homeless population are veterans. The difficulty in re-assimilation, war-induced emotional stresses, physical disability – all these are challenges that soldiers face when trying to re-enter civilian life. The journey back is not always easy – but few would say that we don’t owe it to those who have stood to defend the nation to help as best we can.
So as I prepare my cupcakes and snacks for my picnic at Iwo Jima this week, I’ll make certain that I remember those who gave so freely of themselves so that I could feel the spirit of the 4th in the air.
And I’ll make sure to show my gratitude.