Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Coming Home From War

The Iraq War isn't really over, and the war in Afghanistan certainly isn't. But some military personnel are getting to come home, if briefly, and those returns often raise significant challenges.

Back on 8/26/10, NPR's To the Point aired a good program on "The Joys and Sorrows of Coming Home" from Iraq and Afghanistan. As the blurb describes:

America's combat role in Iraq has ended, and tens of thousands of returning troops are repopulating military bases and nearby towns all over the country. But history shows that many joyous welcomes are bound to go sour with marital problems, crime and suicide likely to increase in the months to come. Are the military services and the Veterans' Administration ready to help so many people recover from wounds and shake off the mental burdens of combat? Will civilians recognize their sacrifice? Will ongoing controversy over the war itself tarnish the rewards of coming home?

On PBS tonight, one of the local stations aired the P.O.V. documentary, "The Way We Get By." It's about a group of senior citizens up in Bangor, Maine, who greet the high number of arriving and departing troops at the airport. It's picked up a few nominations and awards. As filmmaker Aron Gaudet explains:

It's really a personal story not a political one. That goes for the greeters themselves as well. They have different views on the war, but their main goal is to support the troops.

The film focuses on three of the greeters (one, Joan, is the filmmaker's mom). While we see many scenes of greeting, and hear what it means to both the troops and the greeters, there's also plenty of time spent on the greeters' lives otherwise. They face some pretty tough situations, such as cancer, or having to give away cherished pets due to cost. They've lost spouses, and in one case, a child. One of the more touching tiny moments is when Joan mentions to a departing soldier that two of her grandkids will be shipping out soon, and he smiles and reassures her they'll be fine. Joan's there to support them, and the greeters are much appreciated by the troops, for the pats on the back, the warmth, and the cell phones they hand them to call home when they get off the plane. But this soldier senses her anxiety and reaches out in turn. Later on, we see more about Joan and her grandkids. Despite the reassurances, she frets, "They're in the middle of a war, how can they be safe?" (If you follow the link above, you can see comments about the film, including some from troops who were greeted.)

In the "personal not political" aspect, this doc reminded me of The Messenger, the narrative film about a death notification detail stateside. (It's the second film I reviewed here.) If you haven't seen it yet, it's excellent, but be prepared for some gut-wrenching scenes. As Woody Harrelson's character Captain Tony Stone says, there's "no such thing as a satisfied customer."

Lastly, hearing the To the Point program made me think of Homer's homecoming in the post WWII film, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Homer was played by Harold Russell, and if you don't know his story, it's worth reading. Here's the opening of the film (this one never fails to get me):

(Some previous posts have covered PTSD, and then there's the War Series.)

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