The impact of military service extends to the families of those individuals who have been in the American armed forces.
“It isn’t just the veteran,” said Janet Olsen during a presentation she gave at the First Sunday program Nov. 3 at the Nodaway Valley Historical Museum in Clarinda. “It’s the wife. It’s the son who doesn’t understand why dad feels the way he does. It’s the son who can’t understand what PTSD is. It’s the broken-hearted mom.”
As executive director of veterans’ affairs for Page County, Olsen is involved in providing assistance to veterans, from applying for benefits to securing treatment for both physical and emotional needs.
“We need to step up and protect our people,” she said. “They fight for us as a nation.”
And, she said, the aid that is available to veterans also addresses concerns that their loved ones may have.
“I don’t do anything in my job, or anything for our veterans, that I don’t fight for the family as well,” she said. “We’re making a difference, and we are now looking out for our soldiers and their families.”
Beyond the formal services that veterans can receive, men and women who have been in the military are deserving of respect from those they meet, Olsen noted.
“The next time you go to a parade, you look for those hats,” she said. “Shake somebody’s hand who has served, who was over there. We wouldn’t have the life we have today if they weren’t there.”
As a result of their experiences, veterans develop a unique bond that allows them to offer mutual support through social interaction and membership in organizations such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Amvets. These groups also provide a means for members to pursue projects that benefit their communities.
“Because of the feelings they have, and their dedication, veterans can communicate and understand each other,” Olsen said. “Veterans don’t think like everybody else does. They have been programmed not only to fight, but to be terribly organized. It’s the training, and it’s the camaraderie. [They] are a family.”
She said it is important to recognize veterans whenever and wherever possible, but also to “honor and revere them. We need to acknowledge who’s out there, and who’s served for you.”
Olsen was in the U.S. Air Force for 14 years, achieving the rank of master sergeant (E-8). She was deployed to Vietnam in 1968. She audited and reviewed accounting records, and helped develop a new computer program to replace a key punch system that was being used for payroll distribution for military personnel overseas.
She described the conflict in Vietnam as “different” from American involvement in previous wars, but said her tour of duty was “fascinating, and I was glad to go.”
In Vietnam, she said, “we lost a lot of men because of politics and because of the way the war was fought,” referring, as an example, to a battlefield tactic in which American forces would seize an objective, then abandon it, resulting in enemy forces returning to the position and forcing another assault by U.S. troops.
But she said lessons were learned from the war, and she said she doubted that the United States would become enmeshed in a similar type of conflict in the future.
At present, there are about 1.3 million individuals in the active duty armed forces of the nation, and about 865,000 in the reserves.
Those numbers represent 1.2 percent of the population of the country, Olsen said.
During her presentation, Olsen reviewed selected information about prior wars, including the Revolutionary War that saw the establishment of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps.
The Civil War was the most devastating conflict in the nation’s history. An estimated 618,222 individuals were killed in the war -- 360,222 from the Union and 258,000 from the Confederacy. Thousands of deaths were the result of disease.
Amid all the destruction, some significant changes occurred, Olsen said.
“When this war started, there were no ambulances and hospitals,” she said. “But both sides, being in dire straits and needing to care for their people, actually did learn how to provide medical attention and to be quick about it.”
In battlefield locations, the wounded were placed in wagons and rushed to medical camps that had been set up -- and that later became hospitals.
Also during the Civil War, about 2,500 newspapers were launched in the country, publishing reports from the war zones.
“They were established just to carry the news to areas where the families were, and to list the dead,” Olsen said. “They printed the news from the battlefields and listed the names of those who didn’t come home. Can you imagine being that momma or that wife, and looking at that public posting just to see if there’s a name that you know? This had to have an extreme toll on every family, and every family paid the price.”
World War I is considered to be the first industrial scale war, with equipment and supplies produced on a mass scale, including new weapons of destruction like tanks and airplanes.
The trend of creating even deadlier weapons accelerated during World War II, a conflict that resulted in the deaths of millions, civilians and combatants alike. The war also caused social and economic disruptions on the home front, problems that persisted in the postwar period.
Contemporary conditions in the country, Olsen said, are “still unsettled. We still have questions, and it’s always going to be that way. That’s normal. But we always come back together, and we create our United States of America.”