Nov 12, 2007

Veterans Day redux

Ø Yesterday was Veterans Day. It's a personally important holiday for me because I have a lot of family members who have served or are currently serving in the military. I have two great uncles who were in combat in Europe during WWII, a cousin who fought in Korea and two cousins in Iraq now.

My father wasn't drafted but enlisted in the Army Air Corps. and trained as a nose-gunner, the soldier who sits in the front tip of a plane and fires the massive gun at targets. He narrowly missed being sent to combat because WWII ended just as he was being given orders to ship out.

My family, while being staunchly Democratic politically, has always been supportive of the military. Back when there was draft, the general population had empathy for those who were called to or chose to serve.

Today, the public numbs itself out with celebrity gossip and the like. The local Los Angeles blogs, a group that could stand to be more politically-minded, have mostly paid lip service to the holiday if they mention it at all.* It seems like they mean well, but plainly their hearts aren't in it; a reflection of their readers, I suppose. A couple of posts have mentioned the Veterans Day Monday federal holiday as a reason to celebrate the light traffic, bringing life to the Lala Land clichés many blanch at hearing from former New Yorkers like me.

It would be nice, noble even, if the local bloggers, since they have the platform, took the lead in raising awareness about the war. I'll even give them an angle: There have been more military personnel deaths in the war in Iraq from California than any other state in the union.

Ø The Los Angeles Times has a powerfully moving two-part series that ran yesterday and today about the "Marlboro Marine." It tells the story of Blake Miller, a 20-year-old Marine who fought in the bloody battle of Fallouja, Iraq, in November 2004. After being photographed by Luis Sinco, an embedded Times staff photographer, the picture was picked up by 150 newspapers the next day, inspiring news stories that turned the young soldier into a celebrity.

People who saw the photograph sent him care packages; the president sent cigars and candy.

A major general made a special trip to see him, shook his hand and told him "We can have you home tomorrow" because "nobody wanted to see him wounded or dead." He balked at leaving his buddies behind in combat and stayed. Fourteen months later he was kicked out of the Marines for having post-traumatic stress disorder.

He moved back to his native Kentucky and married his girlfriend, only to separate from her ten days later and file for divorce as symptoms of PTSD escalated.

Sinco, feeling responsible for catapulting Miller into becoming a temporarily mythic figure and all that it led to, spent the following two years flying back and forth between LA and Kentucky to help Miller get treatment, even driving him to Connecticut to enroll in a Veterans Administration program for PTSD sufferers.

It's been a rough road for Blake Miller, and he's not out of the woods yet. He is not alone in his harrowing condition. As Sinco notes in the article,
Some experts estimate that 30% of the troops who have seen combat in Iraq will suffer from PTSD.
*LA blogs that mentioned Veterans Day: LAist and Metroblogging LA; those that didn't: LA Observed and Losanjealous.