Looking like they’d wandered into a Mondrian painting, these vets were part of a crowd of soldiers and veterans that gathered at Madison Square Park for last Thursday’s Veterans Day Parade. The sky was a cloudless blue and the morning bright and mild.
Vets of every description gathered before the parade
A notably young crowd of vets gathered to march with IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
IAVA gave out hoodies that proclaim “We’ve got your back.” And they do, providing resources and assistance to soldiers transitioning back from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as advocating for better services for veterans and their families.
It’s a good thing someone is looking out for these men and women. By the time they are in their early 20s, many of the soldiers have served multiple deployments, fighting in wars that began when some were still children.
While the lives of many Americans remain untouched by the wars, the nearly two million soldiers who have served so far bring their experiences home to their wives and husbands, children and parents, friends and co-workers. More than 5,700 American soldiers have been killed and over 41,000 have been wounded; coalition deaths number 1,148. Civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the hundreds of thousands.
Colorful patches brightened the streets
Strangely, the discount stores that line the side streets were all hawking camouflage clothing, $20 a jacket, less for a T-shirt. So if you’d lost your uniform or just wanted to look like a soldier, you could blend right in. Sort of.
I watched the start of the parade, then headed for the subway. Along the way, I passed several bus kiosks sporting advertisements for war video games.
Much later, I walked in the park, admiring the fall colors, the hordes of dark-eyed junkos and one elegant little female downy woodpecker. As I walked, I checked the weather in Kandahar and Kabul on my iPhone, and was surprised to find mild temperatures not much different than this year’s mild New York City autumn. I wondered what animals might be spotted by soldiers in Afghanistan.
An exceptionally lucky birding soldier might spot the extremely rare Large-billed reed warbler, only recently discovered to reside in Afghanistan
or perhaps a steppe eagle
For several months this year, Navy SEALs in Afghanistan, along with an American contractor trained in ornithology, cared for a Steppe eagle that had been shot in the wing by an Afghan soldier. A U.S. Army veterinarian splinted the wing, and the men built a large cage on their base, and fed the bird by hand. The eagle eventually healed, although it will never be able to fly.
With their deployment drawing to an end, the men worried that the bird would not survive their departure. “We redeploy back to the states in about 3 months,” wrote a SEAL in a letter seeking help for the bird, “and I doubt that the crew relieving us will want to put the effort into caring for it.”
The men finally located a bird sanctuary in New York that agreed to keep the eagle. New York Senator Schumer helped to clear bureaucratic and diplomatic hurdles, and in October the bird arrived at the Berkshire Bird Paradise Sanctuary in Grafton, NY. The Steppe eagle known as Mitch now shares living quarters with an American eagle called Eddie.
Nothing that lives escapes suffering in a war zone.