National Public Radio calls it a driveway moment. Vermont Public Radio should call it a dooryard moment — a moment when you arrive home, shut off the car but can’t turn off the radio. I had two in my dooryard last month. Ever since, I can’t stop thinking about military veterans like my college freshman soccer coach, Dud Hendrick of Deer Isle, Maine.

As I remember the radio story, the new director of the veterans administration — the fifth in five years — was visiting the VA hospital complex in Los Angeles. Hundreds of homeless veterans camped out on the property, unable to get sufficient treatment for PTSD, addiction and other non-physical trauma, listening to him promise to correct the bureaucratic inertia that limited mental health services and delayed construction of low-income veterans housing. Years of incompetence as well as attempts to privatize the VA during Trump years had taken a toll. The new director was there to clean up the mess.

The next day I pulled off interstate 89 at the Williston exit to pick up a print job at Staples. As I slowed for the red light at the base, a man holding a sign — “HOMELESS VETERAN” — stood at the light. I rolled down my window.

“Where are you from?” I took a stab at connection.

“Florida.”

“What brings you here?”

“Hitchhiked up last week. Used to be from here.”

I paused in wonder.

“Um, not a great time of year to land up here in the cold north.”

“Yeah, pretty cold and wet in the tent.”

The light was about to change. I engaged the clutch, pushed into first gear, digging for something to say.

“Maybe put your tent on the VA lawn in White River,” I said, remembering the radio story. “You deserve their help.”

He looked at me quizzically, almost hopefully, as I drove off. I felt a wave of remorse that I gave him only words, not cash.

Why is it that military veterans comprise an inordinate percentage of homeless people? Where is the innovative mental health treatment that soldiers deserve for putting their lives on the line in foreign wars? What can change the attitude in our culture and in the military that somehow post-traumatic stress is a weakness rather than a clinical disorder?

Do we have any significant new understanding that the internal wounds of war can be as damaging as the loss of a leg, an arm or the ability to have children? When will we invest as much in the people who serve as we do in the firepower that kills or wounds the shooter almost as much as the victim?

Are we aware of and alarmed about lopsided suicide rates with veterans?

I am not a veteran, but I’ve been a member of Veterans for Peace at Dud Hendrick’s invitation years ago. Dud was the most influential coach I ever had. As the 50th anniversary of our undefeated freshman team approached, I remembered my 18-year-old sense that Dud knew something we didn’t know. I didn’t know what he knew, wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

Now, after learning about Veterans for Peace and listening to Dud’s pointed pontifications over the years, I know things that are hard to know but that we all need to know — that the business of killing is not to be glorified, and that Veterans Day, as it was originally conceived of when it was called Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, at the end of WWI, was for “perpetuating peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations.”

Eisenhower elaborated when Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954: “Let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace.”

Dud has been arrested for civil disobedience at military installations, led delegations to overseas American military bases to stand with displaced native peoples, protested loudly the continuing American folly in Iraq and Afghanistan that began when we didn’t learn the lessons he learned when he served in Vietnam.

With him, we can come to believe that we can change policy when enough veterans — and others — challenge the American arrogance and ignorance that pushes military action as the dubious default mode of national security rather than creative diplomacy. Like heroin pushers and addicts get recovery, so too could the good old U.S.A.

In between inert pacifism and the cynical warmongering that has plagued our nation and the planet for at least the last 60 years is the nonviolent resistance of Gandhi, King, Mandela and Veterans for Peace. Dud hits this radical center with a passion for peace. Why? Because he knows up close the horrors of war, sees common sense alternatives to conflict resolution.

As I pondered our reunion, wondered what to give Dud for being our coach and simultaneously for his 80th birthday, I suggested to the 13 guys who were returning for the reunion a cash gift to Veterans for Peace. Over $2,000 was given generously to honor Dud in a way he’d cherish because it came from all across the political spectrum.

As I drove home from the reunion, still resonant with the hope we all felt from hearing a series of stirring toasts and tributes, I had my own new dooryard moment when I shut off the car. I didn’t want the celebrating to end.

I couldn’t seem to get out of the car.

There will be serious peace work to do, I thought, in honor of veterans, when I get out of this car.


Michael Caldwell, of North Wolcott, is a member of the international ecumenical Iona Community.

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