Poppies… poppies will make them think.
I’m a big fan of RangerUp products. I first learned of the company’s existence in 2009 when I went in search of a Christmas present to send to my husband who was in Kuwait at the time. The company is owned by men and women formerly and currently serving in the American military and they make all sorts of shirts, hats, signs, etc. Biggie is anxiously awaiting the production of their newest product – completely American-made jeans.
Though I love the company (and the feeling is most likely mutual due to all the money I’ve given them over the past couple years), this post is not an advertisement for awesome patriotic-, military- and MMA-themed apparel. However, when I first saw this year’s Memorial Day shirt, it got me thinking. This post has been on my mind for a few days now – one of those that you really don’t want to get wrong.
Biggie was a paratrooper and I was a heroin addict. This shirt inadvertently reflected our marriage while using LTC McRae’s imagery from “In Flanders Fields” to honor our fallen warfighters:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
If you ventured out today, you probably ran into representatives of the VFW selling little paper poppies as fundraisers and to raise awareness for veterans’ needs. VFW’s “Buddy Poppies” are all assembled by disabled and needy veterans in VA Hospitals. Just a small donation gets you a pretty little something and goes a long way to help veterans, both financially and by boosting the self-esteem of those who feel themselves less worthy due to their current status. I hope you took a moment to say thank you instead of blowing past them on your way to pick up more beer and charcoal.
For most people, today is “National Barbeque Day.” It’s a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer. Fewer and fewer individuals have any real connection to what we are supposed to be remembering today. An essay by Nick Palmisciano talks about how the burden of war is being shouldered by an increasingly few number of men. “In World War II, 11.2 percent of the nation served in four years. In Vietnam, 4.3 percent served in 12 years. Since 2001, only 0.45 percent of our population has served in the Global War on Terror.” Few men and women serve, and fewer of them die. Whereas in earlier wars, when casualties would be reported in the thousands, a bad day now entails only a handful of fallen warfighters despite many different fronts. With only 0.45% of the American people serving over the past 12 years, just how many of us have an even slight connection to someone who has given his or her life in the war on terror? Over 300 million people live in America and just over 6,600 Americans have died in war in the past 12 years. If my math is right, 0.0001% of the American population has perished each year over the entirety of the war on terror. 0.023% of annual American deaths are warfighters paying the ultimate sacrifice. Yes, it would be wonderful if no one had to die; and my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones. But my point is this: this is a holiday which really has become “National Barbeque Day” for a wonderful reason – to the vast majority of the population, war is something that happens on TV and those rows of white crosses do not bring to mind the faces of 19-year-old boys lying dead on the beach.
I live in Military City, USA. I work with the military. My husband served as a Ranger and my children’s father, a Marine. I regularly visit military hospitals and rehabilitation centers and volunteer to help our nation’s wounded warriors. Our veterans are on my mind just about all the time. And still, whenever I see poppies, I think opiods. I think heroin and vicodin and morphine and opium. I think of the Wizard of Oz and “poppies will make them sleep” (and “snow” will wake them up again? no wonder Judy Garland met the fate she did). So when I saw that new RangerUp shirt, I didn’t think of paratroopers dying on the field of battle; I thought of my home group where I met Biggie. I thought of taking meetings into a local drug and alcohol rehab facility where the military units are beginning to outnumber the civilian units. Created to remind us of those who have given their lives to defend our freedoms, instead this shirt reminded me of the increasing number of warfighters who have discovered the living death brought on by alcoholism and drug addiction.
It’s one thing to see a problem and know there is a problem. It’s another thing entirely to find accurate data which reflects the true scope of the problem. Addiction is a hush-hush problem among the general populace. When it comes to the military machismo, the concept of “ranger up” rules and no one likes to be thought of as too weak to handle their booze. My husband broke his back on a jump, then waved off the chopper, picked up his ruck and road marched a couple of miles after the paralysis wore off. NOW he understands just how much of a dumbass he was for doing this, but at the time this was just the way things were done. Rangers don’t quit. The vast majority of folks I meet in rehab are hard-headed fools, unwilling to consider that they may have a problem or that they may need to change their lifestyle. “This side trip to rehab be damned, I’ve got to get back to my unit because these men depend on me!”
While it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the extent of the problem, I was able to locate a few stories including this one which states that while tobacco and illicit drug use seems to be decreasing, heavy alcohol and prescription drug abuses are on the rise. Most concerning is the seeming lack of understanding on the part of the doctors prescribing these medications. This story suggests that those warfighters most prone to addiction due to PTSD and other mental disorders are more likely to be prescribed stronger medications for lesser injuries in the hopes that the medication will aid in easing the mental and emotional pain as well as the physical. (As an addict, I can’t tell you how angry it makes me to write out that sentence.) Lance Pilgrim’s story backs up this claim. Initially prescribed OxyContin for a broken finger (OxyContin. Broken finger. Just think about that for a second), his subsequent addiction led to rehab followed by more opiod prescriptions and ultimately his overdose and death just prior to his 27th birthday.
Praise God our fighting men and women are seeing fewer and fewer deaths at the hands of our enemies. Let us not ignore those “Buddy Poppies,” though. Let these little red flowers remind us of the children who go off to war and return with a demon on their backs. They train for years so that they can handle a moment’s attack. They are not trained to handle addiction, though, and they are encouraged to pretend it does not exist. This is where my thoughts lie today.
These are the fallen men and women I will remember.