Tag Archives: tommy atkins

Thoughts Before a Memorial Service

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I am in a hotel in Fredericksburg Virginia tonight as I will be attending a Celebration of Life for Captain Tom Sitsch, United States Navy. As those who follow this site know, Captain Sitsch was my last Commodore at EOD Group Two and though I didn’t know him long he made a big impact in my life when I most needed human compassion. 

I traveled this evening, driving in the bitterly cold dark January night up Interstate 64 and Interstate 95, un-melted snow from the most recent winter storm still covers the ground on either side of the highway. The dark shapes of trees lined the road, silhouetted against the night sky, most stars unseen because of a thin cloud layer.

The trip took about two and a quarter hours, good time if you know how traffic can be on these roads. When I got to the hotel I discovered that I had forgotten by sleep medications and what I call my “docile pills” so I expect that sleep will be a challenge tonight, even though I am quite tired. So I walked over to a nearby restaurant and had a couple of beers and some wings at the bar before coming back to my room.

Captain Sitsch took his life two weeks ago. A war hero, who suffered from PTSD he saw his, career, life and family collapse around him. He didn’t get the help that he needed and as things collapsed he was pilloried in the media. His wife and children had to suffer as well. Living with mental illness is not easy; families often don’t know where to turn when the person that they love falls apart. I wrote about this a number of years ago, my wife has suffered watching the man that she loves struggle with the ravages of PTSD, something that she too knows all too well having been abused as a child. 

This is especially true for military families who are used to their loved one being the strong one. The sad thing is that while this is a big problem in the military, it is also a problem in the civilian world. Some studies estimate that nearly one third of Americans either live with or work with someone afflicted with some kind of mental illness. 

The problem doesn’t just extend to families but the society at large. Our military compared to our population is quite small, all volunteer and quite often isolated from much of society. The horrific pace of wartime deployments and now the shift to doing more with less amid a major reduction in force, even as the wars wind down has a terrible effect on service members and their loved ones.

Those who don’t serve, or have not served do not really understand, even those who are sympathetic and actually care. I think that we will see a phenomena similar to the years after the Vietnam War, when our society rushed to forget the war and were often embarrassed by those who served. Stereotypes of soldiers shown in the media, on the news, or in entertainment then, presented veterans in almost comic book like caricatures, often in the most negative manner possible. Today the media coverage is a mixed bag, some making us to be uber-heroes and supermen, others men and women who deserve pity, and sometimes the negative portrayals that were so common after Vietnam. 

If it was just a media and society issue it be one thing, but even as men like Captain Sitsch fall through the crack there are those in the private sector and their political allies in Congress pushing the government to cut the pay, health and education benefits promised to those that served in the military, even those who came back wounded, or changed by war.

Those wrestling with budgets in Congress, look to solving budgetary woes not by cutting weapons systems that the military no longer wants or needs, or by cutting superfluous bases in their congressional districts. Instead, they choose to cut the benefits that they had promised to veterans and their families before and during the war. The proposed cuts now include health benefits as well as pensions, balanced unfairly on those who have spent the majority of their careers at war, many of whose skills do not translate in the civilian economy.

Of course these actions will have even more drastic effects on military members, veterans and their families. We can expect that more heroes like Captain Sitsch and their families will succumb to the pressures of service and what happens after they leave the service. Divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse and suicide have been on the rise for years in the military and there is no empirical or historical evidence to suggest things will get better anytime soon.

I predict that it will get far worse before it gets better.  Lieutenant General Hal Moore, famous for his book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young noted how his generation of warriors were treated after Vietnam.

“in our time battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and suitability for life in polite American society were publically questioned.”   

Sadly, things have not changed that much. Rudyard Kipling wrote in his Poem Tommy: 

“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!” But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot; An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please; An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!” 

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Tomorrow I will be present to pay my respects to a tragic hero. Tom Sitsch, deserves to be remembered for all the good things that he did defending this country, saving lives and putting himself in danger time and time again. I pray that those present will know the comfort and peace of God as well as the special bond of friendship and family that we share as part of the Brotherhood of War.  I also pray, maybe against hope that our country will not throw veterans under the bus as they have so many times after war, and that no more men or women will have to be overcome by the despair that Captain Sitsch had to live with for God knows how long before he took his life.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, PTSD, remembering friends

“Tommy Atkins” and “Just a Common Soldier” an Ode to Veterans Yesterday and Today

There has been much talk by our purloined and pampered politicians, pundits, preachers and their backs on Wall Street about the need for all of us to sacrifice. They seem to pushing harder and harder for the men and women that have served in thankless wars for the last 10 years and our families to again take a bullet for the country as they and their supporters refuse to sacrifice anything for the country.  You see the volunteers that have sacrificed to serve in time of war and on deployment after deployment have answered the call are expendable when push comes to shove.  We’re entitled you see, and our benefits much too generous.  They must be cut because no one else wants to sacrifice and they are so few that their votes really don’t matter.

Back inBritain’s colonial days the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines of the Royal Army, Royal Navy and Royal Marine Corps, and later the Royal Air Force served around the world but went without thanks at home. The American “Doughboys” took to the streets ofWashingtonDCin the midst of the depression seeking their bonus from the war because of they had lost their jobs in the Great Depression. They were driven from the streets and brutalized by troops under the command of General Douglas Macarthur who had commanded many of them in the Great War.

In many towns near bases in our fair land once stood signs in lawns that said “Dogs and Soldiers (or Sailors) keep off the grass.”  My late father told me of seeing these signs in Jacksonville Florida in the 1959s. The great poet Rudyard Kipling wrote the Poem “Tommy Atkins” which was dedicated to the soldiers that at the beginning of war were cheered and in peace jeered.  A. Lawrence “Larry” Vaincourt penned “Just a Common Soldier” in 1987.  Both speak volumes to the situation that exists in theUnited States as well as our alliesBritain,Australia, France andGermany as each government and their financial backers cast their veterans aside.

They say it better than I so I leave you tonight with these two great poems.  Something to think about the next time some Senator, Congressman, pundit, other political hack or Wall Street corporate raider says that veterans have it too good.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

TOMMY by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

 

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

Just a Common Soldier by A. Lawrence Vaincourt (1987)

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast, and he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past. Of a war that he had fought in, and the deeds that he had done, in his exploits with his mates; they were heroes, every one. And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbours, his tales became a joke, all his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke. But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away, and the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

 

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife, for he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life. Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way, and the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today. When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state, while thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great. Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young, but the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land a man who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man? Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife, go`s off to serve his Country and offers up his life? A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives. While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all, is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

 

It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago, that the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know it was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys, Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys. Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand, would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?

Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend his home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

 

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin, but his presence should remind us we may need his like again. For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.  If we cannot do him honour while he’s here to hear the praise, then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days. Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say, Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

 

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Pastoral Care