HICKS: Families of veterans also serve their country

November 7, 2009

My family is reveling in the birth of a new niece and cousin, Madeline Elizabeth. She is just a month old and we get twice daily updates on her, including lovely pictures posted to Facebook.

The only problem is that she was born in Japan, where my brother and his wife are stationed. You see, he is in the Air Force and on his second back-to-back overseas tour. This prompted my thinking about the sacrifices made by families of men and women who serve.

To begin with, I have to note that Nov. 11 is Veterans Day. It is rightfully a time we thank those among us who have served. And there is no better time to think of those who also sacrifice, by having loved a serving soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

Being married to someone in the armed forces is difficult even on easy days. There are long separations, frequent moves and little certainty about life next year. Peacetime is difficult enough, but war brings with it the wrenching goodbyes and anxious months. Most of us, I’m thankful, cannot imagine the anguish of this situation.

Children of men and women in uniform suffer as well. In my experience, the youngest simply struggle to understand. As a reservist during these past war years, one or more of my children have asked me each time I departed for my annual training overseas whether I would be killed in the war. This is not part of the ideal childhood.

I suspect it is the parents of service members who feel the biggest ache of dread. My parents had to endure both sons at war at the same time: one in the infantry, one a pilot. Life holds for me no greater fear than a repeat of this with my own children.

The challenge faced by families does not end with discharge or retirement from military service. My grandfather died in his 40s as a delayed consequence of mustard-gas poisoning at the Meuse Argonne. He left behind four young sons and a wife who remained widowed for 60 years.

My father-in-law’s terminal lung cancer was attributable to his time in a destroyer engine room, some 50 years earlier. In the early 1990s, the Veterans Administration’s biggest single expense was in mental health counseling—for World War II veterans. These stories of suffering are shared by far too many American families.

Our social safety net for military families is not ungenerous. It is not grand, either. The pay and health benefits are no more than modest. In the case of death, insurance provides enough so most families can sustain themselves. I’m happy to say that, here in Indiana, the children of disabled wartime veterans receive free college tuition.

Saddest of all, many families, especially those of wounded soldiers, rely heavily on the generosity of private charities to bridge the financial needs the government does not provide.

This week, take time to give thanks to the families of veterans.•


Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.


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