The Mostly Myth of the Alaskan Vet

Years ago US News and World Report ran a story about a group of Alaskan Veterans living near Kenai.  The slant of the story was that these were men "living on the edge".  The photographs showed them standing next to their old outhouses, rather than showing their comfortable, modern houses that they had built and moved into, portraying the outhouse as their "rustic cabin".   The men had spoken to the magazine because they were having trouble receiving some of their promised services but not because they were anxious to be portrayed as gun tote'n mountain men.  

At one time, I wanted to write a novel that involved an encampment of these archetypal "wild men veterans"  I started my research and I was disappointed to find that in my experience almost all of the combat vets I found had no real interest in "living in the bush with a bunch of other guys" ever again.  Been there. Done that. No thank you.  All the combat vets I spoke with were either well adjusted, or were dealing with their problems with the courage and persistence that they had shown in their lives that took them on the path to serve their country. Yes they had PTSD and yes they had problems but they dealt with them with the same courage they showed in the field.  No sign of the crazy veteran.   I gave up on that novel, I was chasing an empty cliche and I took what I learned about the real people I had met and I folded it into my stories.   

More war's came.  I stayed working in crime.  I noticed another phenomenon.  Many of the men I came in contact with  (always men) usually homeless, usually with a history of PTSD, alcoholism, assaults, and incarcerations,  these men told me of proud histories as combat veterans.  But here is the sad part, at least fifty percent of the men I have done complete backgrounds on it turns out they have either never served in the military at all, or they served for a short time and never served in combat.  Simply put, it is better to be a homeless hero than simply homeless and mentally ill. It makes sense after I found the third or fourth man like this. 

But I never judge until I dig out the evidence for certain.  When an old man who was a well known "public inebriate" passed away couple of years ago, the Air Force sent a small metal coffin the same color and material as a file cabinet.  The color guard from the American Legion, a police officer came, a social worker, three friends.  I read a poem by Carl Sandberg.  The coffin seemed tiny, under the gray sky. Raindrops bounced off the top off the metal box.

This old man was a client he served in the Air Force during Viet Nam.  He was a ladies man and a bartender, a good storyteller.  He never complained, and he never blamed his troubles on anyone else.   

All of this is to say that the Alaska veteran, is no wilder or more messed up than anyone else.  Yes there are wild people in Alaska, shy people who like to keep to themselves and some of them may have served their country.  All that says is that Alaska is big enough for shy people to disappear into.

Alaskan Vets like others, served bravely, miss their friends, deal with their problems, and deserve our help when they need it.  They also deserve their privacy, for bravery sometimes comes with baggage.

Respect to them, always.

End the wars.  


Morning fog and smoke

wilting rhododendron buds:

lazy bees, buzzing. 


jhs---Sitka, AK