West Virginia is one of the states in the nation that has the most veterans per capita. In large part it is a deeply ingrained patriotism- everyone you know has someone who served in the military family, and it is something that is considered just part of what we do. In my small town of Bethany, a college town, where most of the kids were the children of college professors or mine or steel mill workers, out of about 20 some kids in my age group (give or take a year each way), about eight of us ended up in uniform. It’s not totally surprising- we would spend hours every day, all of us, down at the creek building forts and playing war. This was back when you rode a bicycle without a helmet and your parents would unleash you on the town and the park, and someone else’s mom got stuck feeding the whole clan lunch because, well, that was the closest house at lunchtime. All that mattered was you had to be home when mom and dad rang the dinner bell on the back deck (that is how we also got the dog to come home, so think about that for a second). At any rate, several of us from the glory days of the battles at Buffalo Creek are still in, one or two with over 20 years.
There is also the sad fact that economics drives a great deal of our state’s citizenry into uniform.
The Women’s Club in town, which does various things like planting flowers in public areas and a lot of other nice, hometown kind of stuff that isn’t worth going into detail (town picnics, selling pies at the town yard sale, etc.), tends a little Veterans memorial down by the Community center. It’s a modest little monument, surrounded by flowers and mulch, and a little patio formed of bricks, each one engraved with the name of someone from town who had served at one point or another. My mom pestered me for a long time until I finally let her buy a brick with my name on it, and it sits down there along side a lot better men than me. The whole concept of the brick and things like it make me feel uncomfortable, and maybe this is the shut-in in me coming out, but I just want to be behind the scenes on stuff like that. I always feel uncomfortable when people get all sappy on Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day or the 4th and get all up in your face and say “Thanks for your service!” I know they mean well, but all I can think is “I joined the Army to get my shit together and they probably saved my life and then put me through college, so thank you!” Plus, I was no super trooper, I was just a smart-ass who most of the time did what his NCO’s told him to do. Regardless, I guess I joined the Army also because I knew it was a viable option and something I could do that everyone in town would approve of. For once.
I digress. When I read stories like this, it reminds me of the folks I have known my whole life:
Jane Drussel wears her weariness with grace. After media published images of her hanging “Welcome Home Bowe” signs at her shop, Jane’s Artifacts, she started receiving threatening e-mails and calls. As president of the Chamber of Commerce, she decided to send all chamber calls to voicemail.
“I’m tired, and I’m starting to get a little angry at the negativity,” she says. “We’re just a small community that cares about those who go out and fight for us. For us to be criticized because we care, that’s not right. They’re calling our town a traitor town. That’s offensive. We are all about family here.”
Among the comments on a Bring Bowe Home Facebook page: “Are you all in Hailey wack-a-doodle? So nice to know an entire town in the United States are (sic) supporting a traitor and deserter.”
Drussel says that’s mild in comparison with what she’s seen. In contrast, she points to a bouquet of flowers sent by a family in Texas, along with a note reading, “I wanted to let you know that there are plenty of us out here who respect Bowe for his service and sacrifice, regardless of the extenuating circumstances … there is no good reason for people to be so mean and hateful.”
Strolling the aisles of Jane’s Artifacts with her three children is Sherri Ditch, a recent transplant from Seattle. Ditch is visibly upset as she defends her new hometown.
“Let’s say something positive about people who love and support their community members, let’s talk about that,” she says. “Everyone has each other’s back here, and that’s not something you see often. It’s something special. And until we know what happened (with Bergdahl), people shouldn’t be passing judgment.”
A few streets away, Sondra Van Ert, owner of Baldy Sports, laments how events “have turned a positive thing into a negative thing. But at least this will be a good place for Bowe to try and reintegrate, a place the world will leave him alone.”
It’s just criminal what is happening here. We really know nothing concrete, yet we’ve seen some news media call for his execution, his father under siege for having a beard, his entire town under assault, and so on. It’s fucking insane. I am as disgusted with some of my veteran friends as I have ever been.
And where do these warpigs think they are going to find their next warm bodies to run through a meat grinder? Small towns like Hailey, Bethany, and every other town like us in the country. You can be damned sure people are going to be thinking twice after watching this reaction to bringing one of ours home. Who the fuck is going to sign up to get blown up in some meatgrinder when you know the Republicans sending you there under a lie aren’t going to fund the medical care you need and will then shit all over you, your family, and your town if it helps their political agenda?
I used to think that if I had kids, I would want all of them to go into the military. Do a stint in the Air Force or Navy, see the world. Fuck that noise. I’m not having any kids, but I would tell any kid from 17-21 to stay as far away from the military as is humanly possible. If me from 1989 was thinking about the military and watched what has happened the last decade, my attitude would be “Fuck that shit. My shit’s fucked up but I want all my limbs and don’t want my parents being called traitors.” Not to mention, we used to believe in not leaving people behind, even if Sean Hannity didn’t like their dad’s beard. The only possible outcome to military service is negative, these days, unless you are higher level brass.