As a veteran of many Valentine’s Days, I used to fall into the trap of thinking that the overpriced sappy trappings of the day aren’t as sincere if I receive them on February 15. A handwritten card with crayons and construction paper received on February 14th was better than nothing—but only once. At 12:01am, February 15th, they become past-due Valentines; the penalty and interest start to accrue toward the next year’s Valentine’s Day. While a veteran of Valentine’s Day, I’m not a veteran of the US Armed Forces. Though some remember to thank active duty service members when we see them, this is my past-due Valentine to the men and women (and their families) who sacrifice everything for America and her citizens.
After September 11, 2001, out of the smoke, ash, twisted metal and grief of the fall of the World Trade Center, patriotism and the desire to serve the United States rose. Many men and women felt compelled to leave the comforts of their lives to fight and protect America overseas.
Since the “shock and awe” of the Iraq War was televised during prime time, there has been a surreal quality to this conflict that has never left the minds of those who were able to remain spectators at home. But the intellectual and emotional distance that many created about the war was bad for us as individuals, bad for the country and, most of all, bad for the service members and their families. In the beginning, we were told the names, hometowns and ages of the fallen. We weren’t shown flag-draped coffins, because that would have robbed us of the surreal fantasy we had about the war—we might have pushed harder to bring our troops home. We weren’t told of the physical and emotional wounds these brave men and women suffered, because again we might have pushed harder to bring them home.
Then we discovered we had allowed our loved ones to be put in such danger over an elaborate lie. There were no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq and Saddam Hussein did not have a solid link to al Qaeda. Because the US military is the best in the world, they ignored these distractions and remained focused on their mission in Iraq.
On December 15, 2011, the US finally entered the homestretch toward removing all US military personnel from Iraq. Welcome home. America owes you a debt that we can never repay. For those who served despite an illegal immigrant status, citizenship seems to be a fair exchange.
I wish this past-due Valentine included a job with a livable wage and benefits. Unfortunately, they are in short supply for everyone. I wish this past-due Valentine included the restoration of your home, for the thousands of service members who were wrongfully foreclosed upon. I wish this past-due Valentine included a well-funded veterans administration that would be able assist you and provide adequate care. I wish this past-due Valentine included the promise that we will never be so cavalier with human lives again. But with the ongoing war in Afghanistan and saber rattling over Iran, I have low hopes.
To the active duty military, veterans and their families: You teach us about boundless love and sacrifice, and you were on time. Sorry this Valentine is past due. I will never again be late with my support and advocacy on your behalf.
Happy Valentine’s Day.