"Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks -
masks that I'm afraid to take off
and none of them are me."
~ Excerpt from The Mask I Wear
As a freelance writer and former newspaper correspondent, and because
of my interest in personalities and perspectives, I have spent hours
interviewing people and recording stories.
Understanding perspectives is extremely important when interacting on
any meaningful level. But it's difficult, oftentimes, to get on the
inside and see from the worldview of another ... unless you've been
where he or she has been.
Since human nature tells us to hide, we hide ... we close up,
believing we will be safer that way. Having served Veterans in a
previous work, and for two years now as a TexVet staffer, I have learned
that this protective instinct to continue wearing camouflage over pain
comes as part of the package.
Generally, Veterans, combat boots-on-the-ground Veterans in
particular, do not want to talk about the past. They want to forget,
because in forgetting, they seek recovery and healing.
Exposing oneself to outsiders, those who have not been there in the
trenches with them, is "dangerous." It is a "sign of weakness," and as
risky and deadly as exposing oneself to the enemy. That is the general
thought I've confronted dozens of times. Trust has to be earned before
the camo comes off.
"I don't like to talk about it," one said. "I don't think I want my memories out there."
"I've never talked about it," said another Veteran. "I can't."
"For 50 years, I never told my kids I was in the Korean War," stated a
100% disabled Veteran who has no use of his limbs and relies on an
oxygen tank for the next breath 100% of the time.
But despite the masks, the bad memories come gunning for us, don't
they? I have seen that revealed in the faces, in the eyes of those who
fought for us. And what I wish more than ever is that Veterans would
know that it is okay.
It is okay to talk about it, to push through it, to move it out of the way.
Our nation is grateful to you for your terrible sacrifice, your
amazing service. No, we weren't there with you, but we know that you
went through unspeakable horrors. If we could take some of that burden
from you and carry it away, we would.
You stood in our place. You took the bullet for us. You stepped on
the IED. You breathed through the straw beneath rice patties. You came
home in full body casts. You saw your brothers and sisters killed on the
tarmac where you landed. You were caged in bamboo for months.
You feel guilty because you came home when others did not ...
We owe you everything for what you did. We sent you over there while
we simply waved miniature flags in the air here in the safe zone. And
now we owe you everything.
The flag still blows because of you.
by Betty F. Sandefur ~ Granddaughter, Niece, Daughter, Sister, Wife, Aunt, and Mother of Veterans