When Johnny comes marching home again (Hurrah! Hurrah!),
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then (Hurrah! Hurrah!).
The men will cheer and the boys will shout. The ladies they will all turn out.
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home.”
My mom used to sing a lot, and one of the songs she often sang was the one above. The tune was catchy, but the lyrics didn’t mean much to me as a child. I didn’t know who “Johnny” was or from where he was coming. When I was old enough (preteen) to actually want to know what the song was about, I learned that it referred to veterans returning home from the war(s). The lyrics above were written by Patrick Gilmore (1829-1892) during the Civil War.
As an adult, I worked with a woman who was married to a Vietnam War veteran. He suffered from what is now called (recognized as) post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)*. His (her) sleep was interrupted by his nightmares. He often woke up screaming, and sometimes hit his wife, thinking she was the enemy that had sneaked up on him. His attacks on his wife were aborted by her calling his name loudly, telling him who she was, shaking him and assuring him that he was at home in bed.
When bombers flew overhead at the Chicago Air & Water show, making the earth shake, ears hurt and kids scream, I thought of those people caught up in war who experienced the real terror and consequences of bombers flying overhead. The cheery, anticipatory mood of the lyrics to the above song change when one considers the reality of war – the fact that war may end Johnny’s life or leave Johnny afflicted with some physical or emotional trauma that prevents Johnny from “marching home again.”
Armistice Day (when leaders of several countries signed an Armistice on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918 when WWI fighting stopped), became Veterans Day in 1954, a day to commemorate veterans of any war. I hate war and wish the world could find peaceful means to resolve differences! But whether or not we support past or present wars, our veterans should be honored for putting their lives at stake for our existence. So … on this Veterans Day, let’s pause a moment and salute our veterans.
*Post traumatic stress disorder – A mental disorder, as battle fatigue, occurring after a traumatic event outside the range of usual human experience, and characterized by symptoms such as reliving the event. (Webster’s Dictionary)