The Day the War Changed

Published: Nov 07, 2018

It was 2007. I was twenty‐one and I’d just moved out of my parents’ house and gotten my own place. One day, while standing behind my car and struggling to wrestle both my forearm crutches and wheelchair out of the back seat, an older gentlemen (probably a neighbor of mine) approached me and asked “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

Now, we’ve all been here before: some rando walks up to you and tries to pretend that “Why are you in a wheelchair?” and “Can you get a boner?” are somehow appropriate questions as long as they asked if they could ask first.

I did my best to hide my irritation and said “Sure, what’s up?”

His demeanor shifted suddenly and he sheepishly looked at the ground for a moment before asking “Are you a veteran?”

I smiled politely and informed him that I was not in fact a member of the armed services. He nodded, a little embarrassed by his mistake, and said “Oh. If you were a veteran, I was going to thank you for your service.”

For those who may be a little too young to remember, at this point in history the Iraq War had been going on for four years and more and more young men and women were coming back home looking like, well, me.

This is the day the war changed for me. This the day I realized what kind of irreparable damage was being done to my generation by the horrors of war.

As time went, on I would bump into service members who would come up and talk to me assuming I too was a war veteran. They would start conversations by asking me what branch or unit I was with and their eyes would light up at the chance to have a minute to related to someone who’s been through what they have. All I could respond with was “I’m sorry. I’m just a civilian”. We still had a good conversation, but it was disappointed I couldn’t provide the connection they were looking for.