The Solitary World of a Vet

By Ray Starmann

On Veterans Day, it is important for those who have never served to take a moment to understand the solitary world of a vet.

Millions of vets are and have been successful in all endeavors. They are doctors, lawyers, business people and a thousand other professions. Not all have PTSD; not all are the troubled, brooding, street corner homeless guy, although they exist and need help desperately.

No matter how successful a vet might be materially, more often than not, vets are often alone, mentally and spiritually each day and for the rest of their lives.

Vets’ stories are all different, but some elements of the common experience exist.

Many vets experienced and saw and heard and did things unimaginable to the average person. They also lived a daily camaraderie that cannot be repeated in the civilian world. In fact, many vets spend the rest of their lives seeking the same esprit de corps that simply is absent from their civilian lives and jobs. They long to spend just 15 minutes back with the best friends they ever had, friends that are scattered to every corner of the earth, and some to the afterlife itself.

Vets are haunted by visions of horror and death, by guilt of somehow surviving and living the good life, when some they knew are gone. They strangely wish sometimes that they were back in those dreadful circumstances, not to experience the dirt and horror and terror and noise and violence again, but to be with the only people a vet really knows, other vets.

Civilians must understand that for a vet nothing is ever the same again. Their senses can be suddenly illuminated by the slightest sound or smell or sight: sights of death all around, a living version of Dante’s Inferno; sounds so loud that they can only be described as Saving Private Ryan in surround sound on steroids; smells vast and horrific; rotting death, burning fuel and equipment, rubber, animals and…people. The smoldering ruins of life all around them.

All vets have these thoughts nearly every day. Some may experience them for fractions of second, or for minutes at a time. They replay over and over again like an endless 24 hour war movie.

Part of the solitary world of the vet is being able to enjoy complete bliss doing absolutely nothing. This is a trait grating to civilians who must constantly search for endless stimuli. Unbeknownst to them, the greatest thrill of all is just being alive. A lot of vets have an Obi-wan Kenobi calmness. After what they went through, how bad can anything really be?

As King said to Chris in Platoon, “Make it outta here, it’s all gravy, every day of the rest of your life – gravy…”

So many, if not all vets walk around each day lost in their own special story. They were once great actors on a giant stage with speaking parts and props. Maybe they were heroes and now they aren’t anymore. Maybe they helped save the world and now they can’t. Maybe they gave orders and now they take them. Maybe they thought that they could accomplish anything and now they know they can’t. Perhaps their lives now are smaller and slower and sometimes in the vet’s mind, just incidental, even though they’re not.

Most civilians are oblivious to the solitary life of the vet. But, it’s there. It’s the same eternal and universal philosophy, whether you fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan. The experiences may have been different, but the emotions are the same.

A problem with the solitary world of the vet is that the vet has a hard time explaining what he or she did to those who didn’t serve. Some vets want to talk, but they have no outlet. Maybe their only outlet is watching a war movie or reading a book about the conflict they were in.

How often do people say, “Grandpa never talks about Korea.” That’s because Grandpa knows no one can understand except other vets. That’s because Grandpa knows most people don’t care.

Part of this taciturn mentality is that vets speak another language, a strange and archaic language of their past. How do you talk to civilians about “fire for effect” or “grid 7310” or “shake and bake” or “frag orders” or “10 days and a wake up” or a thousand and one other terms that are mystifying to the real world?

You can’t.

All of this adds to the solitary world of the vet. Some are better at handling life afterwards than others. Some don’t seem affected at all, but they are. They just hide it. Some never return to normal. But, what is normal to a vet anymore?

So, this Veterans’ Day, if you see a vet sitting by themselves at a restaurant or on a train or shopping at the grocery store alone, take a moment to speak with them. Take them out of their solitary world for a moment. You’ll be happy you did.

29 comments on “The Solitary World of a Vet
  1. How about FIGMO and FUBAR. Three hots and a cot, trip ticket, and laying on your back outside at night watching tracers fly over your head. Thank you for this article.

    GOD BLESS AMERICA!

  2. Great article and i would like to add how vets felt for the previous 8 years watching Obama destroy our beloved military. I thank God for Trump and we have a great chance of restoring the greatest military there ever was.

  3. All gave some. Some gave all. Every one of them are a breed apart.

    Alone and forgotten, we linger in this life like ghosts of a half forgotten time when courage and honor still had meaning.

    The soldier knows better than most that nothing lasts forever, so we stand our solitary post…hoping for one last chance to make a difference, and praying that we have chosen Rightly.

  4. Sorry boys, but this is what happens when you allow yourselves to be duped into killing other humans.

    IT IS CALLED KARMA – DEAL WITH IT !

    And, your government doesn’t give a royal “S” if you have a Karmic debt because of it or not. It is time for our War Mongering Culture to take a step back and stop pretending we need to be the policeman of the world, to support our Military Industrial Complex !!!

    Do you have any idea as to how man men and women work to support that Industrial complex?

    MILLIONS.

    From the lonely rivit maker in a sub contractor, to the Miner who is digging up material to make explosives.

    • you seem to have missed the point; and since you refuse to accept that there ARE other points of view, there’s no sense trying to explain it to you. You probably fled to Canada when your draft number came up, or finagled a deferment

    • Pussy little Bitch. Your freedom is cause of our great Military. Maybe you ought to live in a country with no freedoms. Fuck off

  5. Half way through my brief Marine Corps experience
    the Lord Messiah revealed Himself to me as being real, and reality itself. He delivered me from darkness and brought me forever into His Light. This began in the spring of 1972 and continues today.

  6. Ray that was wonderful. I had my own set of fears, real or imagined, in my short duty as an ANG Flight Nurse in Desert Shield/Storm, but I was never under fire. I got out soon after that conflict ended, as we expected our first child. My husband stayed in, and as Guard member in on his fifth deployment, this time in a “safe” destination. But some were not, and when he became uncomfortable hearing fireworks I learned more about what you’ve written. May I share your article (with proper attribution of course) to the newspaper? Best Regards, Julie Wilkinson

  7. Old Soldier
    By: George Nearon

    An old warrior walks a lonely path

    Solicits how or if or why
    Chanced he avoid God’s violent wrath.
    Did he kill, would he kill, could he kill again
    Or did he die and life is just a lie
    Does it really matter in the end?
    It seems that he should know.

    In what great game was he pawn
    Was the game not so great
    Senders less than those they send?
    It seems that he should know.

    Absolved to see another dawn
    Down-deep counts upon his fate
    Awaits that he should know.

    • Please tell me why you remember Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda? I was just thinking of him and how my Navy seems to have gone downhill from that time. Any clues or comments would be appreciated.

  8. As a vet with a CIB and purple Heart, I strongly disagree with your final paragraph. If I’m alone, I don’t want people I don’t know coming up to me, and I for sure don’t ever want to hear another “thank you your service”. I’ve done what I’ve done and am proud of it and really don’t care what anyone else thinks about it ot me.

    Just please leave me alone in my world because that’s the way I prefer it to be.

  9. Even though a lot of veterans hadn’t seen combat, the fact that we all embraced a regimented and ordered way of life clashes with our civilian counterparts who had not in large part. Especially because of such, we embrace such ideals as honor and integrity and sacrifice in a world that has grown self-centered and selfish makes coexisting difficult and lonely. We don’t receive empathy except from each other and are unappreciated by society and often seen as pariahs; an evil necessity, unrecognized and shunned.

    • I spent two tours in Vietnam and I would suggest that the vets who served there have one more issue to deal with. Picture a 20 year old returning from a year of doorgunner duty. Arriving home at 2:30 AM to the SeaTac terminal. The only people to meet him are three Hare Krishnas spitting filth at him.

      It wasn’t much better on my second tour.

      Speaking of filth. Where are these people today?

  10. Having a Honorable Medical Discharge for my ‘service’ I still find it wrong that more $$ is wasted on machines of war before that $ is spent on covering and caring for those who are no longer on a battlefield with bullets and explosives in a war that was likely caused by Elite 1% think tanks for wars of choice & politics propping up Zionists interests across the globe. We should be making Space Machines to become a milti-planetary species. We should not march under illegal orders. What would have been the narrative if that one lone single soldier in the bunker with Cheney had turned the Pentagon’s missile defense from off to ON, and shot down that “missile” that hit the Pentagon on 911? I bet that we would NOT be in all the places we have sent volunteer soldiers across the globe for Imperialistic purposes.

  11. The only “Proper” way that I know of to Thank a Vet for His/Her service, is to exercise my Constitutional Rights that they protected for us.
    NOT by merely voting either.
    But by making a stand, taking a stand and REFUSING
    to allow OUR Constitution to be dissolved by self serving power hungry individuals who believe THEIR ideals surpass those established by the founding fathers and given to us to uphold and keep.
    Vet’s have already done their part. It is now encumbent on us to do ours.

  12. I to carry Vietnam every day, and every night! I to have been wounded and have a CIB, When I came home from Nam, being shunned was worse than any thing!

  13. So Amazing to read something I could never put into words. That loneliness has never left me, thru marriage, raising kids and thru work—Thanks Ray for letting me read about MY turmoil.

  14. You say civilians should try to understand what Vets are going through, then you say civilians will never understand what Vets are going through. You say civilians should befriend a lonely Vet, and then you say Vets will always be isolated.

    I care about Vets, but this post isolates them even more. We are all scared and scarred and alone. Civilians may not be able to identify on all levels, but there is much common ground. Please focus on the things that bring us together because we all have a cross to bear.

    And thank you for your service to this country.

  15. Well written Ray – as one veteran to another, I’d say that most of what you have said is spot-on. May God Bless our military and our wonderful country!

  16. Thank you. Wise words for those who do not understand why our soldiers are who they are. We love all our soldiers and I especially love my vet!

  17. Thought they were wasps or bees buzzing by my head..was actually being targeted by a sniper in the Dom Rep….1965. JESUS CHRIST protected me …still kicking at 72…..18TH AIRBORNE

  18. Thanks, Ray.
    You nailed it right on the head. In my case it was Vietnam, but like you said, it holds true for Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, WWII,
    pick your poison.
    But it is the way you were able to articulate it. Spot on.
    Thanks, again.

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