You can’t see all wounds

Published 11:40am Tuesday, November 12, 2013

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

One of my most treasured family pictures is that of my Paw Paw and Uncle Jimmy returning from the Korean War. It was taken as they got off the bus in Birmingham, fully clad in their Marine Corps attire, and my Paw Paw is kissing my Nanny.

They were just kids, but I often look at that picture and wonder about what they had gone through and what they saw.

I know that both saw battle and both had scars, but they took two distinct paths after Korea. Uncle Jimmy stayed in the Marine Corps, fought in many other conflicts, retired with the highest enlisted rank that could be achieved, and lived a long life until he passed away an old, fulfilled man.

The other path wasn’t so great. Nanny told me Paw Paw wasn’t the same man when he came home from Korea. His direction led him to the bottle, a lifetime of addiction, a broken marriage and abandonment. His wounds from Korea didn’t kill him from abroad, but from within. His alcoholism ultimately led to his demise, and he left us with many unanswered questions.

We are saying good-bye to many members of the Greatest Generation everyday and welcoming home many more from the current conflicts we are involved in.

What they have in common is that some are coming home with emotional scars that they will have to deal with. Some will be fine, like Uncle Jimmy, while others will need affirmation, guidance, friendship and care. Many of our veterans will turn to pill abuse or the bottle to cope. We also know that they are much less likely to turn to you.

Our service men and women are taught pride and independence, not to seek help, be dependent or to show weakness. It is important for us to not only welcome these veterans home with open arms, but to listen to their stories.

There are veterans who do not have a mechanism to release their burdens. When we ignore these issues, the veteran does become a burden — and that burden can often become tragic. Remind them that while the war they fought is over, the battle remains and always will — but they are not alone.

Capt. Chris George is a commander with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He can be reached at cgeorge@shelbyso.com.

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