Healing Our Warriors

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Although I served four years in the U.S. Army (April 1966 to April 1970), I was never in Viet Nam. I was lucky.

Watching the parades and celebrations on TV this weekend, I saw veterans from World War II and a couple from the Korean War.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the press was focusing on WWII because it was the last war we won. Maybe it was coincidental that I didn’t see any vets from Viet Nam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan.

We need to call attention to vets from these more recent wars. Statistics show that WWII infantry men saw, on average, 40 days of combat in four years of war. In Viet Nam, because of helicopters and because  it was a ‘guerilla war’, the average infantry man saw 4 to 6 times as much combat in one year. Incredible statistic, isn’t it?

I recently read War and the Soul, by Edward Tick, published in 2005. Tick spent decades helping soldiers with the symptoms of PTSD. He cited the following statistic. During Viet Nam over 58,000 American soldiers died in combat or from combat related wounds. What’s worse is that the number of Viet Nam vets who committed suicide exceeded 60,000 in the 1990’s. Neither the government nor the press wants to discuss that number. To honor those 60,000 brave men and women we’d have to build a second Viet Nam War Memorial!

The Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan are yet again worse wars because so many vets have spent three or four or more tours fighting in them. This practice is inhumane. Yesterday a group of Chicago supporters marched 22 miles to call attention to the fact that 22 service men and women commit suicide every day; over 8000  victims per year. Many are from our more recent wars.

The press and the armed services talk positively of efforts to help veterans who have PTSD. But I don’t see any statistics to indicate their efforts are successful. When will our leaders in the armed services, Congress, and their civilian counterparts pay attention to this tragedy? Efforts to treat these honorable men and women as though they have a stress-related disorder are ineffective. Focusing on PTSD is like placing a bandaid on a gaping chest wound. It doesn’t stop the hemorrhaging.

May God bless our veterans, their friends and families, and may He help us find a more effective way to honor and heal our wounded warriors.

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Communicating With Nature

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Once the sun shined through the parting clouds I went for my two mile walk. When I started I reminded myself to pay attention to the trees, flowers, birds and everything nature has to offer. Otherwise I get distracted. I think of schedules to keep, people to call, bills to pay. If I’m not careful my walk will be over and I will realize I was too preoccupied to enjoy it.

As I approached Memorial Park I heard dozens of kids playing and shouting. I soon found out that students from St. Benedict’s Catholic school were there for an outing, playing games, tossing balls around and having fun in the sun and fresh air. I circled the park and headed home when I spotted a young man in his early twenties walking ahead of me texting on his I-phone.

It reminded me how divorced we are from nature. I also thought of those school kids, how they were divorced from it too even though they were playing and having a good time. We view nature as a place to go to have fun. But in reality it’s like a visit to a friend where we spend the entire time in self centered conversation instead of asking how our friend is doing.

We need to spend more time watching and listening to nature; silently noting what is happening, what animals are there and what they are doing. Let’s feel the breeze touch our skin; smell the freshness of the grass; see the plants, trees and colorful flowers; touch the bark on that huge tree by the fence. And while we’re there we need to hear the call of the chickadee, the cardinal, the red winged blackbird perched on the marshy grasses by the railroad tracks, and sometimes, if we are fortunate, we will hear the screech of the red tailed hawk and look up to watch it circle high above our heads.

How will we understand Mother Nature’s language if we don’t take time to learn it?