Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Veterans Day: Through the Arts

by Shardae Jobson

Ah, Veterans Day…one of those singular holidays that allows many of us a day off from school and work to catch up on our sleep and lingering assignments. Most of us will spend November 11 as extended leisure time, but this day became one a noted 24 hours of the 365 days of the year back in 1919 as Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson. We all know Veterans Day is in honor of the men and women that have served for the United States in the military. The day is celebrated worldwide, as other nations have a strong connection to November 11, too--making the holiday a rather special one. Since some of us don’t have a clue if we share blood with anyone who has fought U.S. battles, by way of the arts, there are ways to remember and honor our courageous men and women who are given this special day of accolade. We can at least try to sympathesize with them and acknowledge their courage, which shall always be held high.

The admittance of how many of us spend Veterans Day, by simply lounging, is not meant to be viewed as disrespectful. Our more indolent ways are indicative of the percentage of us who lack a personal connection to the holiday. November 11 means little except for the fact that we get to sleep in later. There are people out there who take this day seriously and likely appreciate these same men and women everyday of their lives. As November 9, 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the first break in Germany’s Berlin Wall and the sudden tragedy at military base Fort Hood in Texas, this year’s Veterans Day is a bit more sentimental than years past. Veterans, whether deceased or alive, must be recognized. While opinions will vary on what is the best manner in protecting the freedom of the U.S., the military is used and will always be; so we must toss aside our beliefs as what happened on November 5 on Fort Hood is a reminder that these brave and adept persons can be gone in the seconds it takes to blink an eye. Veterans Day is their day to shine. So how exactly will you show your gratitude to this group of people that served the country your national pride is contained?

Veterans Day can mean a great deal to you even if you’re not a history major in college or in the military. There are ways to stay in the know of how individuals in war and military-related issues felt that will keep you intrigued and leave you pondering. What immediately comes to mind is the memoir and short stories book Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora by Andrew Lam. In Perfume Dreams, Lam reminisces about his family’s escape to America, as refugees from Vietnam. It was his father whom was the last to see the affects of the Vietnam War. As a veteran, the pain Lam’s father has of letting go of what was his country and America intruding and ripping apart its soul, is not only heartbreaking through his suffering-as Lam can imagine-but gives the reader a intimate look into the lasting affects a veteran carries with them. Lam’s father becomes distant and angry, and the author describes his off and on close relationship with him. His father often did not express himself clearly on what was bothering him, but at the same time, his loved ones knew where his hurt derived from. Lam discusses many aspects of growing up, his family and the differences in culture as he became quite the observant child when he first landed on U.S. soil in the 1970s, giving Perfume Dreams a broad appeal. Books, as always, are a great way to become exposed to the inner thoughts of experiences that seem insolated but are truly not.

Sitting back and watching a movie is also a way of escaping your usual occupations on November 11. While breezy, light comedies can be a solution, war movies tend to be the opposite--gritty and violent. The following movie is exactly one of those, as there is no happy go lucky message, but the message nonetheless is headstrong. This is showcased in the 1989 acclaimed film Born on the Fourth of July, directed by Oliver Stone and also Vietnam War related. The film shows what a war can do to a person; a person who not only participated but was otherwise confident in their efforts and the future beforehand. Starring a youthful Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic, the character of Kovic is shown at his deployment and his disillusionment when he comes back home paralyzed. Based on the autobiography by Ron Kovic, Born on the Fourth of July is powerful and what movie-making used to be all about.

For a more current choice in what’s still affecting us in 2009, there is the 2008 film Stop-Loss, directed by Boys Don’t Cry’s Kimberly Peirce. It is the story of young men who return home from serving in the Iraq War and again, the fragilities of adjusting to life and the severe agony of the perpetual image of torture-which the lead character Brandon King has, played by Ryan Philippe. Born on the Fourth of July and Stop-Loss show that regardless of the specific war at hand, Vietnam or Iraq, the pride one initially had in serving their country can be fleeting when the aftermath is emotionally, and in some cases physically, too harrowing.

Through the fields of film and literature, there are ways in honoring the men and women who are sometimes overlooked in their strength, but were so active in the agilities of the military. It is unfortunate that many veterans continue to struggle in obtaining their earned benefits from the government, but for what’s it worth, November 11 comes every year, and veterans will be honored once more. If anything, a moment of venerated silence is a nice and simple way to commemorate those that have done the kind of job most would rather shy away from.
(President Obama with Veteran Tammy Duckworth)

Here’s to Veterans Day and to each and every brave soul that fought for their countries worldwide.

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