Karla Gomez, a student of Mary Guillory at ASTEC Middle School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, “Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country,” by Dr. Edward Tick, a story about the many veterans he sees physically and emotionally wounded from serving in the war and how we, as community members, can help these warriors heal.
Writing Prompt: Imagine what it’s like to serve in war. Write a letter to a veteran- fictitious or someone you know. Whether or not you agree with the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how might you welcome this soldier home, and express your support for the transition this soldier faces as he or she returns to civilian life?
An imagined letter to be sent to her cousin, a veteran.
Dear Private Eduardo D.,
You made it to the army, Cousin. You were the first one out of all the family to make it. Many others from our family have tried but they all eventually gave up because of racism. They said it was ironic for a Mexican to defend a country that does not accept us. You managed to persevere despite all those negative comments. You felt honored to fight to defend OUR country; you wanted to be a warrior—a good man for your family and country—because no matter what others say, this IS your country.
In the YES! Magazine article, “Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country,” Ed Tick tells the story of a German American named Walt. Walt enlisted in the Vietnam War to try to clear his family’s history. He wanted to finally be considered one of the good guys, and not have people judge him because of the deeds of Germans in the past. He entered the military without knowing he would come back traumatized from war and feeling worse than before.
Your story relates to his story because you enlisted to prove that being Mexican does not make a man incapable of showing patriotism for the country in which he lives. You enlisted to prove that not all Mexican Americans are criminals, as some people believe. You wanted to show them that you weren’t enlisting in THEIR Army but in OUR army.
You became the Mexican guy who was willing to sacrifice his life to save thousands more. You took the cold, the hot, the rain, the pain, and the bullets so others wouldn’t have to. Now, you feel like the naysayers were right: you weren’t meant to go to war for the United States of America, nor were you strong enough mentally and physically.
You had an entirely different picture of reality in your head, and you had to learn a new definition of strong. You went to fight for our country without realizing that the experience would leave you marked.
It will be hard to go back to the life you were living as a civilian before enlisting. I’ve seen you struggle day by day. You can’t close your eyes without seeing bombs go off, guns firing, and soldiers going down. You can’t seem to see yourself without guilt and shame. Our religion instilled in you that it is wrong to kill, but in a “kill or be killed” environment you had no choice.
You can’t hear a loud sound without getting scared. You scream because you don’t know what to do. You feel frustrated, like you are losing your family because you no longer have control over your actions or flashbacks. You’ve changed, and you feel like your family does not love the veteran you.
You can’t go back to the way you used to live because once you joined the army to fight for this country, you became a new man—a new person. Like Mike Corrado’s song “On My Watch Tonight” says, you were “broke down and built up and reborn a fightin’ man.”
As you face all of this pain, you don’t seem to recognize that I, one of your youngest family members, understand why you did everything you did at war. I welcome you right back into this family and into this country. I will never judge you, nor will I deny you. I will always be proud to consider you family.
You survived war for a reason: you are meant to continue your life. Remember “God only gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.” Getting better after war is your toughest battle, and I know you can win it, Cousin.
I hope you see that you are not alone. You will always have your family and other veterans to discuss your troubles with. We will all love you through your battle with your mental and physical wounds. Hopefully you learn to love your veteran self. We refuse to judge you, so why judge yourself?
Your cousin Karla