At one of my recent Veterans Writing Groups sessions we wrote about staying connected as a family both while on active duty and after being discharged from the Armed Forces
One man wrote that current technology helped him stay in touch with his family members via Zoom so he didn’t have to deal with getting reacquainted when he got home. He did relate that his niece was dismayed when he appeared on camera with a gun in his lap. He explained to her that he was on duty while talking to her so had to have his gun with him. When he returned from Iraq she was shy around him until he explained more about where he was stationed and what the Americans’ function was. She relaxed when he told her he didn’t have to shoot at any specific person. He also wrote that he talked with his brother, “in person,” meaning on Zoom, about sports, family news, and sharing jokes. Afterward, he could repeat what was appropriate with other soldiers so it gave them something to talk about besides whether they were going to get mortared that evening or not.
My WWII veteran friend that died in November wrote about being reported missing to his parents when he wasn’t. He had gotten separated from his platoon when he and a buddy did some unauthorized exploring and didn’t know their platoon was moving to a new location, they left without them. He wrote about the fact 70 years later and could laugh, but he also remembered well the angst he caused his officers and parents at the time. He did a few extra days of KP for his exploits as the Army wasn’t impressed with his wandering away from where he was supposed to be. I only knew him as a refined older gentleman, in his 90’s, and have difficulty imagining him as the young cut-up he was. He related that being in the Army during WWII did help him mature a degree so he got along better with his father after he returned home.
A Vietnam veteran wrote about finding it difficult when he returned from active duty to talk to his family about how many countries he had been to as a pilot. They knew all the places existed, but with no familiarity, didn’t have much interest in listening to details about the locations. He said he purposely didn’t talk about the many dangerous close calls he had in the C-130’s he flew because it frightened his mother and there were comments made about that’s what he “used to do,” flying that is. When he tells other veterans his stories they have a better understanding and interest because they often know someone else who has said something similar and have also traveled more than the folks back home. The Brotherhood gets it.
A woman who had been a military wife wrote about how her small children quickly adjusted when her husband was away on duty. When he returned they still wanted only her to answer their every need and whim because that was their routine. It made him feel unnecessary in the household. She admitted that switching back and forth from being in total control of the household to other times not being wasn’t easy. As parents, working as a team was challenging for them for the same reasons. They would get into a comfortable family routine after her husband had been home a while and then he would leave again. The military way of life is not an easy one.
I found that my extensive travel made it somewhat difficult to chat with family and especially friends from my home town. My family was one thing because I sent letters home: a carbon copy to my father, one to my aunt, and one to each of three sisters so they were up to date on my daily happenings and how the kids were growing but they still didn’t have a grasp of my going to dinner in London while they went for a burger in their rural New York locales. At my 25th high school reunion, a free drink ticket was given to the person who had the most addresses since graduation. When I said I had over ten the reaction was that I was embellishing a might. Actually, it was more than that, but most of them had maybe one or two. That was 25 years ago and people were still staying closer to home than they are now, but few families move as often as a military household does.
Any move away from family can make keeping up to date on each other’s daily lives difficult thus creating a realm of unfamiliarity. If you haven’t experienced military life, have you had another separation from family you found you had to work through once you were close again? Share your experiences in the comments.
Sue Spitulnik is an ex-Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has recently published an anthology of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at her blog, susansleggs.com