This Veteran’s Day celebrates my twentieth year of being a veteran, which equals the number of years I was on active duty. During those forty years, I have seen positive and negative sentiments toward veterans go in and out like the tide.
When I was a junior officer in 1983, I was met with the negative public opinion generated from the hangover of discontent left by the Vietnam War. As I walked in uniform through a US airport, people confronted me directly with negative comments, openly questioning how I could support the military and the war agenda. We were instructed to take the higher road and not engage in the conversation. The tide was distinctly out. They say time heals all wounds, but this early exposure left its mark on my soul.
As the Persian Gulf conflict (Desert Shield and Desert Storm) begun in the late 1980s, there was a growing disrespect for members of the military. There was still not wide military support from the American public, but as the conflicts escalated the perception began to change, thanks in large part to the efforts of Four-Star General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf. He reminded the public that these were real people who were fighting in these wars. Whereas in past wars, the news reported only the numbers of servicemen and -women who died, now the media was actually putting faces to those numbers. We got to learn a little bit about who each person was, what their hobbies and interests were, where they were from, and their family they left behind. These details made the reality of the situation more tangible to the civilian public, and there was more positive visibility and empathy for active service members and veterans.