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Sue Spitulnik

Flash Fiction and personal thoughts

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brotherhood

Service–Military or Otherwise

When you hear the word SERVICE, what flashes through your mind? Currently, it may be a picture of doctors and nurses. It could be your favorite restaurant server, your mechanic, or someone in the military. I was an Air Force wife from 1972–1979 and I waited tables in the closest restaurant to the main gate of both an Air Force Base and an Army Post in Tacoma, Washington from 1978­­—1991 where most of the customers were active duty or retired members of the armed services. I moved back to the Finger Lakes area of New York State in 1991 and lost my connection to a military-based way of life. When I hear the word service my mind thinks military first, then may drift to other definitions.

I am a five-year member of the Rochester, NY Veterans Writing Group. We meet each month and I have only missed a few meetings since joining in 2015 because being with “my” vets has brought me home to a feeling I didn’t know I was missing until I experienced it again. When I started attending I found my “tribe” of brothers and sisters that “get it.” The group gathers around a table and writes personal experience memories brought forth from thought-provoking prompts. Once the allotted writing time ends, we read our musings aloud, sharing the highs and lows, and sometimes comical, points of military life. It’s a healing process and only safe to do with other vets who understand: the front lines come with exhaustion, bad food, blood, and death; the military comes with pride, service, boredom, and chaos; the home front can be supportive or fall away in a flash, and it takes 22 to 25 other members in the background to support the ones brandishing weapons no matter the circumstances.

I am proud to share, the groups’ anthology titled, United in Service, United in Sacrifice will be released in May 2020. The authors are veterans and family members ranging in age from 27 years to 95 years old. The stories start at WWII and move forward to Afghanistan. The authors’ goal is to help anyone understand the meaning and feeling of “tribe” or “brotherhood”  of the military and the sacrifice it takes to “sign on the dotted line,” hence the book title.

According to the National Conference for State Legislators, only 7.6% (in 2019) of all Americans have ever served in the United States military. I beg to differ because I was a dependent wife and had two children. No, I didn’t serve to the extent of following orders and being asked to brandish a weapon, but I carried a military dependent ID and served by being the back-up, the home front, who gave up my childhood roots, never gave them to my kids, then willingly packed and moved each time the Air Force ordered my ex-husband to do so. I made immediate friends with new neighbors and relied on other members of my husband’s unit as a family because I had no other choice. Becoming a military dependent changed my life by expanding the puddle in which I live.

Today I continue to serve by being the “Mom” of our writing group. I take the coffee pot to each gathering, check-in privately with a member when I can sense they need it, and present each new member a patriotic quilt on their sixth month attendance anniversary. I learned to sew when I was in high school and I’ve been making quilts ever since. I am very fortunate to have a large sewing studio in my home that has multiple cupboards full of many different colors of fabric, lots of it red, white, or blue.  My husband is often with me when I’m shopping for fabric. He carries the bolts I pick, chats with the person who cuts what I want, and pays for it knowing I am going to give most of it away. He’s a veteran too and his generosity keeps me occupied doing something I love, and gives both of us a way to acknowledge our fellow veterans.

The quilt pictured below was made for my WWII Veteran friend, Bob Whelan. It is a replica of the 13th Armored Cavalry (1944-’45) patch of which he was a member and is now the President of that unit’s reunion group. The quilt hangs in his study at home. The pattern for the recurring block is called Kaleidoscope. Fun fact; my husband was in the 50th Armored Division (1970-’76.)

WWII quilt

patqlt

The above quilt was a gift to Steve McAlpin

Vets

We had to say a final farewell to one of our own this past January. Some of “my” vets from left to right; Me, Gary Redlinski (Vietnam), Steve McAlpin (Afghanistan), his girl Carol, Holly Katie (family member), Vaughn Stelzenmuller (Vietnam), Bob Whelan (WWII)

There are so many different types of service whether it is in the military, to your family or community, at work, in your children’s schools, at the Carrot Ranch, etc. Service can be as simple as a smile in the check-out line at a retail store or brandishing a weapon not knowing if you’ll make it to the next day and all points and locations in between.

Charli Mills serves us by giving us a fun, safe, positive place to share the written word. I am thankful to be a part of Carrot Ranch and proudly talk of my international friends who keep my life puddle ever-expanding.

In the comments section please share your service story–military or otherwise.

 

Thank a Veteran

Today is Veterans Day. I will be spending the evening with a special group of Veterans who are my personal friends. We belong to the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. Following is part of my portfolio that is on our web-sight page:

When we gather, we catch up on each other’s news and then write for about twenty minutes from a prompt sheet that gets our ideas forming. There are usually four prompts provided by one of our facilitators. After writing, each person reads aloud what he or she has written. Members of the group then offer constructive criticism on how to improve semantics. Suggestions are made for extending the piece into an essay, short story, or whatever. That’s the plan.

This is what really happens; most of us have chosen a prompt that requires a walk down memory lane: it can be a poignant memory with a good, or not so good, outcome while in the military; a humorous escapade from childhood or adult life; something a loved one did or experienced; a subject we feel strongly about and why; or sharing what losing a loved one feels like. After each person reads, the others acknowledge that the emotions shared are legitimate, worthy, and acceptable. The military brotherhood understands the range of feelings and the impact of PTSD. It’s a safe place to share. Personally, I always need my box of tissues; that’s just how I’m wired. Funny, I can talk about a situation, but when I read my own writing, I cry. Sometimes it’s embarrassing.

The number that attends the group ebbs and flows. There can be as many as twelve people and sometimes only five. Most attendees have served in a branch (or two) of the U.S. military and others have close affiliations to a current or past military member. There are no rules other than to have a desire to write, share, and learn. And, it’s free.

Attending this group for over a year now has given me some remarkable gains — friends, understanding, and knowledge. I am part of the tribe and I belong.

My husband is a veteran, as is the father of my children. I pay close attention to the Veterans who are my Facebook friends and vote the way they do because I trust their judgement. They have paid the price for the freedoms we enjoy in this country. May I suggest, today and every day; Thank a Veteran.

VFW or Coffee? Why Not Both?

September 29, is National VFW Day and National Coffee Day.  It was hard to choose which to write about, so I decided to do a little of both.

The VFW was established on September 29, 1899, by a group of veterans from the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. It has since grown to be the nation’s largest group of combat veterans. They continue “to honor the dead by helping the living.” The VFW promote patriotism, good will and youth scholarships. They also provide military assistance and community service programs, promote youth activities and volunteer many hours in their local communities.

VFW membership since its inception has been instrumental in the establishment of the Veterans Administration, the creation of the national cemetery system and passage of the GI Bill. Through the VFW, veterans honor veterans and serve their communities.  On National VFW Day, take a moment to recognize all the VFW does in your community.

I borrowed those two paragraphs from the National Day of calendar because I wanted to share the background of the organization and what it does.  The one common statement I keep hearing in the Veteran’s Writing group I attend is that the military is a brotherhood, in combat you take care of the guy next to you because you have to and he does the same for you.  People that have never served will never understand that brotherhood and when a military person leaves service that is often what they miss most, someone they can talk to that “gets it.”  The VFW provides that unified group working together for the good of others.  The American Legion is another brotherhood of veterans.  They have my utmost respect and you can bet they all stand at attention when the National Anthem is played!

On to coffee…before someone doth protest….American’s are obsessed with coffee, why do you think we have a Starbuck’s, Dunkin Donut’s, and Tim Horton’s on  every other corner. And we all know about McDonald’s extra hot coffee.  Personally, I make mine at home and take it with me.  I’d rather spend five dollars on a single serving of ice cream.  We all have our priorities.

May I suggest, to celebrate VFW Day and Coffee Day, you share a cuppa with a vet and say, thank you.

 

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