Dr. Thomas M. Hatfield is dean emeritus and director of the Briscoe Center for American History’s Military History Institute. He is an internationally recognized historian of World War II, a former army intelligence officer and former dean of The University of Texas at Austin’s continuing education from 1977 to 2007. Previously, he was president of Austin Community College (1973-77) and John Tyler Community College in Virginia (1966-70).
Strolling across our campus by day or making merry along Sixth Street at night, you’d never guess that we’re at war and have been for ten years. Yes, longer than WW II (1941-1945) or the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), and arguably the Vietnam War, depending when you start counting.
Nearly all of us have been remote from the current war. There has been no draft or other compulsion to serve, save unemployment. This war has been fought entirely by volunteers who put themselves in harm’s way for the rest of us, wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles while we wore J-Crew and toted book bags. As defense secretary Robert Gates said recently, “These young men and women — all of whom joined knowing what would be asked of them — represent the tip of the spear of a military that has been at war for nearly a decade — the longest sustained combat in American history.”
Today we are reminded that warfighting is costly in blood, in treasure and in mental damage. In this seemingly endless war, fewer than one percent of us have been inconvenienced, either personally or in our pocket books. We have not begun to pay our share of the bill. Those who have paid the price are the women and men who have served in our armed forces. They are the people we call “veterans” and it is they whom we pause to remember on Nov. 11 each year.
As a consequence of the current war, our first of the twenty-first century, we have more than 40,000 veterans in our country who are broken, either in mind or body. An exact count is impossible because the psychological toll is often invisible. It is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In previous wars the same symptoms, poorly understood, were called combat fatigue and shell shock. Those who suffer, whether from psychological or physical wounds are a lasting legacy of war. They are our Wounded Warriors. We must heal them to the extent possible. Keeping faith with them is more important than tax cuts and student loan programs. Some can never be made whole, but we must try. For a real view of our task before us, visit the Center for the Intrepid at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. It’s a rehabilitation facility to treat amputees and burn victims from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
More is required of us than yellow ribbons on bumper stickers, speeches and essays similar to this one. Numerous organizations are addressing the challenge of caring for our Wounded Warriors. Organizations depend on people and, if you’re interested in volunteering for this worthy cause, the list below may be your starting point.
The university is making a significant effort to assist veterans with a new Student Veteran Center. Student veterans often have unique needs. Many are older than the average student and have families or are just beginning to transition from active duty to academic life. The center is a key part of the university’s concerted effort to improve the adjustment and academic success of student veterans.