Bird Brown: Dealing with mixed emotions on Veterans Day

I grew up as an army brat.

We didn’t have a lot but we always had enough. We didn’t always live on base (sometimes there was no base where my father was stationed) but when we did, we enjoyed a normal life as any family would. We had movie theaters where we could go to the movies for 25 cents (adults had to pay 50 cents to $1), commissaries where we could purchase anything we needed, and recreation centers where we could get involved in many things from a basketball league to guitar lessons.


Our schools were no different than those outside of the military base, teaching roughly the same curriculum and having the same equipment and supplies that our off-base peers enjoyed with teachers made up of military spouses or civilians.

Where we now prepare our students for the possibility of a school shooter, I remember vividly going through air raid drills, having to crawl under our desks in fear of the inevitable attack on our country by the Soviet Union or other adversary.

Other than that, I would say we had a similar upbringing to what many other families had growing up. We went on family vacations — many times camping was the most economical way to travel — visited our relatives in far away states, watched ACC basketball or Redskins football (I was able to break away from that bit of child abuse and become a Baltimore Colts fan) on the television, had dinner together and fought like cats and dogs when things went awry.

But what my father went through, and my mother, who, like every other military spouse, went through it with him, was a much different experience than we had as kids. My father went off to work every morning just like every other dad, but in his case knowing that any day he shows up for work could draw him away from his family again for an extended time, whether it was for a few weeks in “the field,” this seemingly mysteriously place to where soldiers go to practice the art of warfare, or to an actual call-up to a land far away to defend or advance our principles of individual freedom and liberty.

By the time I could fully understand what was going on, my father had already served a tour in the Korean War, one in the Vietnam War, and was coming home from his second tour. I was a young boy who really didn’t know his father but couldn’t wait for his return. Unfortunately, there were many families and little boys like me that didn’t fare as well, meeting their family members in a different location at the airport where they would deliver the remains in a flag-draped coffin.

Because of growing up in that kind of environment, I’ve always felt a deep sense of patriotism and deep respect for our men and women who put their lives on the line every day to allow us to live in peace and pursue our dreams. I stand proudly and pledge the allegiance every day in class, sing the national anthem at the beginning of sporting events, and try to teach my own boys the importance and significance of the sacrifice that so many have made for the citizens of this country that we can really never pay back.

So, I have mixed feelings when I see the impressive displays of our military might at our sporting events with bombers flying over the stadium, huge flags draping the fields, and the recognition given to the veterans in uniform at the games.

My patriotic side is all about the nationalism that comes with these displays and after seeing how our Vietnam veterans were treated upon their return, happy to see these veterans now getting the recognition they deserve. But it also troubles me sometimes that we are showing off these great weapons of mass destruction, kind of like promoting the act of warfare and our dominance in it, and sometimes professional sporting events using the veterans as some kind of prop.

War is hell. My father never wanted to discuss it with us, but the words he left behind in his letters to my mother and his parents show a reality that many of us fortunately will never have to know. I’m not sure how he would feel about these “sponsored” displays of patriotism we see at sporting events these days.

There needs to be a better balance between supporting our military and our principles and using our professional sports leagues — where many kids and even adults see their athletes as heroes over veterans — as a vehicle to promote war.

The great American general Douglas MacArthur once wrote, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

Can we join in a few prayers with our veterans today?