I'll start by saying that I'm a veteran. I was on active duty from 1981 to 1986. I also need to say that I am not a combat veteran. As anyone who has read this blog knows, I was a Russian linguist helping to keep tabs on the Soviet Union's forces in Germany during the Cold War for three of those five years. I was not asked to put my life in immediate danger. Instead, I spent my working hours sitting in front of a bank of HF and VHF receivers in a secure building that had no windows and that sat on top of a hill made out of rubble from the Allied bombing of Berlin in World War II. The hardships I endured were the normal rear echelon Army hardships. They weren't life-threatening, but they were more than most American civilians are asked to or ordered to endure. That's not a complaint. It's an observation that likely accounts for the bond that I feel with other veterans.
Life in the military, simply put, is different from any experience civilian life has to offer. I don't mean to say that there aren't literally millions of American civilians struggling through life every waking moment of every day. There are, and their struggles are real and often of the life-and-death variety. I mean to say that veterans experience a way of life that lies outside of anything the civilian world has to offer. And although my experience is relatively recent, I suspect that the civilian/veteran experience dichotomy has been present for some time. When I see a headline about someone or some group that served I nearly always read the story. I take great delight in sharing the stories of my time in the Army (from the sublime to the ridiculous) with other veterans, and I love to hear their stories, particularly the stories of men and women I've had to privilege to know personally.
Sadly, the story of America's veterans is, and historically has been, too often one of brutal neglect after a job well done. I am grateful that is not my story. One such story, more than 80 years old now, is that of the Bonus Army. My first reaction to the shared hardship and rejection of the World War I veterans who formed what was known as the Bonus Army was, "So what else is new?" After that initial bout of cynicism wore off I looked for more information and came across a fine, detailed account in The Bonus Army: An American Epic by Paul Dickson and Thomas Allen. After reading their book, and after kicking the idea around in my head for a few months, I decided to write a screenplay, a fictionalized account of this remarkable event. I would love to see my screenplay made into a movie . . . of course. But, honestly, I would love to see this story on film no matter who writes it. As we grind through years of what seem to be endless wars, a big fat reminder of how so many veterans who did everything asked of them are soon forgotten by what should be a grateful nation would be a good thing. I hope I live to see it.