Approximately five years ago, I told Rambo about the free meals a chain restaurant was offering veterans. He thought it was a nice gesture and he began to do Internet research. He was impressed by the number of restaurants offering similar deals and began to discuss with his military buddies. By the following year, Rambo had organized a guy’s day out and a gluttony fest of epic proportions. The guys enjoyed several meals together well into the night. The tradition has continued for four years. Rambo calls it his Thanksgiving.
Of the two of us, I am definitely much more social. Through my involvement with SambaFunk and my general passion for arts/dance events, I keep quite busy with gatherings and festivals. Rambo limits his social outings to the occasional MMA fight/boxing match viewing party with his military buddies. As the years have passed, he has become more comfortable socializing with civilians. He won’t head out for happy hour or guys’ night. He prefers to stay home or sometimes take part in extended family events. But his Thanksgiving is something he anticipates with the same enthusiasm I show in preparing for my annual Oscar party.
Now you might think it’s wrong for these guys to take advantage of these companies’ generosity. I applaud these companies. Rambo and his friends have grappled with mental illnesses, financial woes, housing problems, physical ailments, employment challenges, and family drama in the decades since coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many have beaten the odds and battled their demons to now enjoy retirement or second (or third or fourth ) careers and relatively good health. They continue to mourn the brothers who don’t make it; I have lost count of the number of buddies Rambo has lost to suicide. No dollar amount from T.G.I.Fridays, Hooters or Olive Garden can truly compensate for what these men and women endured.
Eat hearty, gentlemen!
Approximately 1.8 million Californians are military veterans (http://www.va.gov/vetdata/veteran_population.asp
). I know many military families including those still on active duty. Of these families, I don’t know any quite like ours. Besides Rambo and the occasional visits from his Army brothers, I don’t often have the opportunity to discuss the realities we experience. Our family and trusted friends have some understanding of what that has been and is but the average acquaintance has no clue.
There’s no yellow ribbon magnet on my car. I don’t have an Army wife hoodie. We don’t fly a flag near our front porch. I have nothing against these well-meaning gestures. But I do have a problem with the social media frenzy we will see today on Veterans’ Day and again on Memorial Day.
I blame Bradley Cooper and his baby face. It’s true he gained 40 or more pounds but that earnest look of his warmed the hearts of many as American Sniper became the movie to watch in 2014. Rambo and I had already decided we would not see the film; we avoid triggering material. Facebook status updates and Instagram posts urged everyone to see the film, wear or fly the Stars and Stripes, and love our vets. I cringed each time. I never addressed anyone via inbox message or text or phone call. Instead, I complained to Rambo about the person’s ignorance or insensitivity. Rambo encouraged me, as he does day in and day out, to address my friend or acquaintance and share my frustrations. After the Oscars, the movie buzz died down along with “veterans” trending online.
Loving a vet isn’t a meme to be shared; it is my life. So much has happened in eight years. No Hollywood blockbuster could ever effectively present our truth. On this Veterans’ Day, I would encourage folks to reach out to a veteran and learn about the reality of having served in the US military—and coming home. What you learn won’t be pretty, glamorous, or particularly heartwarming. But you will have a deeper understanding of who these men and women are