Yesterday, my husband and I got together with two other couples and played dominoes at one of the couple's house. Ever hear of Chicken Foot? It's a pretty fun game. As we played, the husband part of that awesome couple got up and put on some classic Country music through the cable company they use. I'm talking the real deal here: Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty, Charley Pride, and many others. It was also the moment when I realized that when a song's meaning changes, it's because of a deeper understanding based on personal experience.
As songs such as Johnny Cash's “Ballad of Ira Hayes” and Merle Haggard's “Fighting Side of Me” came on, the memories of listening to an 8-track in the back seat of my mom's car blended with the very real feeling of having a loved one, in my case, my son, in a war zone. It wasn't just a song a little girl was listening to, it was a very real reminder that what I was experiencing now, family members of other veterans from other wars were going through and had dealt with similar issues.
As a young girl, I just thought Ruby and the soldier were fighting and breaking up. It sounded like she was cheating on him. That was wrong, especially since it seemed he was in a wheelchair. As the mother of a combat vet, I now hear and understand what the verse about not being the man he used to be is all about. Just as hearing Alan Jackson's song literally brought me to my knees and in tears on the award show the first night it was heard, I now “get” the double meanings...the hidden meanings...the REAL meanings behind so many of those patriotic classic country songs.
PTSD and TBIs are in many of our songs. We can have PTSD as jurors in a trial where someone is brutally murdered. We can have it when we are raped. We can have it when we have to go to the morgue and identify our son or daughter who was killed by a horrible person. No veteran would deny a civilian having PTSD or a brain injury because of something that person went through. Yet many people stigmatize veterans who have served in war and that can cause worse damage for that veteran and his or her family because it makes a veteran hesitate to seek help.
Twenty-five years ago, when Lee Greenwood's song “God Bless the USA” came out, I was seeing him for the second time at a concert. The first had been five years earlier when I was pregnant. I showed him the photo from that first concert. Pregnant me with Lee Greenwood. I also showed him a picture of my little boy and said “God blessed ME with my son.” He said “God blessed the USA, too.” I never forgot that, especially when he grew up and joined the Army, went to Iraq, helped save lives and risked his own every day.
Alan Jackson's song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” is my favorite country patriotic song. It also defines PTSD if you let the words sink in. That moment in history changed my family's life just as it did so many others. That day was even confirmed to cause PTSD in many survivors of those attacks, as well as thought possible if people sat and watched the footage over and over and over sitting at home hundreds and thousands of miles away.
There are many other songs that affect me because my family is living them. “Letters from Home” by John Michael Montgomery inspired a contest in my hometown and I was one of the three winners and the only parent of a soldier winner. I'm not sure if they even had any other parents enter the way they acted when they gave me my prizes. Tim McGraw's “If You're Reading This” reminds me of that special letter so many get when the soldier wants to write that “just in case” letter. I got one from my son. Thankfully, he came home but I still hold that letter dear to my heart and it's in a special hiding place in my room.
There are other songs and other talented musicians out there who are expressing an appreciation for our veterans and our active military just as these wonderful ones named above do. Maybe they don't touch some people as deeply as they do those who are dealing with war and its aftermath. But just as I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the songs I heard about war while growing up, I know that it literally takes someone who has “been there” to understand. If you are there, dealing with PTSD and/or a TBI, we want you to know that here at FOV we understand because we are living with it, too. If you're reading this, you're not alone.