Veterans Day in A World Still At War
Updated: Nov 9
Guest Post by Donna Zephrine, US Army Veteran
Introduction by Allan Shedlin, Founder, DCG and Daddying Film Festival & Forum (D3F)
All Gave Some, Some Gave All
My work over the past decade with veteran support organizations, like Horses for Heroes, and veteran dads returning from combat to their families has been among the most meaningful of my life. Transitioning from a call to military arms to a call to the arms of family is fraught. All too often, the public sees only the heartwarming embrace of those lucky enough to return from service but does not have the opportunity to witness day two and beyond. War scars all those who have experienced it directly, and those scars remain for a lifetime impacting all those in a veteran’s realm.
In my work with Ben King, a Purple Heart recipient, in our program Armor Down/Daddy Up! and volunteering the last seven Memorial Day weekends for his Mindful Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, I heard the phrase “All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” That phrase still gives me chills – especially during this moment in our history when so many soldiers are actively involved in combat.
In my work with Exit12 Dance Company, co-founded by Iraq War Marine Veteran Roman Baca, I had the good fortune of meeting Donna Zephrine, who spent 10 years in the Army, first in the Reserves and then on active duty. I had been asked to read my poem, "A Daddy’s (Parent’s) Prayer," to provoke thought among the workshop attendees. Donna offered to share some of her own writing with us to consider sharing with our Daddying blog readers. Her poignant and timely piece, "War," is published below with her permission.
As we mark Veterans Day, let us pledge our allegiance to our veterans as they have pledged their allegiance to our country. They continue to put everything on the line to achieve an ever-elusive peace.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The world premiere stage production of War Words (linked above), runs November 10 – December 17th at The A.R.T./New York Theatres in New York City. The production is offering a discount for veterans of 30% OFF the ticket price. Just use this code when ordering: WORDS30.
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War comes in many phases. Each one is different, but the end result is usually the same. It can encompass politics, religion, empires, power, and greed. Even the winners of war don’t really win. The ones who call themselves the victors still taste the destruction, death, and catastrophe that war always guarantees. No matter the reason for the war to exist, it always leaves long-lasting and permanent effects.
To meet war, you go through training that breaks you down to build you back up. It starts with physical training to rebuild your body into a soldier. As you begin to get used to the physical challenges, the amount of time spent begins to wear on you mentally. This is to reprogram your brain to even think like a soldier. You become a robot, almost emotionless and unsympathetic to mankind, ready to do things that you never imagined that you would be capable of doing. War brings out the worst in you; it can turn you angry, violent, and evil.
Those who meet war never forget what it looks like and they always remember what it sounds like. Once in war, it never leaves your side. Your dreams are never the same; fireworks displays are changed forever, and there is always a constant reminder of the things war introduced you to. War creates warriors, and once a warrior, always a warrior. It can create monsters and cause the exploitation of children to carry out its means.
Once you meet war it changes you. You are either constantly thinking about it or looking for other things to help you forget. Trying to block out the scars of war becomes a constant struggle. You can try and suppress it, try and act like it was never a part of you, try and forget about it, but it always comes back creeping into your mind. War has put post-traumatic stress disorder on the map. It can become so overwhelming that returning soldiers turn to drugs and alcohol or simply choose to die rather than live with the everyday reminders of the chaos that war produces.
Once you meet war it changes you.
War does not take kindly to fear. Those who fear may not survive. It is kill or be killed. Those who are shell-shocked may be lost forever. It is death before dishonor, chasing victory even if it costs you your life. War invites a level of paranoia that truly never goes away. It is as if war is constantly behind you tapping you on the shoulder even though you know nobody’s there.
It can create relationships amongst comrades that you never thought were possible. Once
you meet war you are bonded for life with each other. Everyone who has seen it knows what
you went through. No matter the time or place, everyone knows of the horror. War can even
destroy those who do not participate. Having nothing to do with war, a person’s life can still be turned upside down. Losing a loved one, creating a broken home, or seeing a friend become a fallen soldier.
War can take someone away in one instant and never look back.
- Donna Zephrine
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If you or someone you love needs help in recovering from PTSD, please consider these resources:
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) - find support groups in your area
Donna Zephrine was born in Harlem New York and grew up in Bay Shore, Long island. She went to Brentwood High School, graduated from Columbia University School of Social Work, and currently works for the New York State Office of Mental Health at Pilgrim Psychiatric Center Outpatient SOCR (State Operated Community Residence). She is a combat veteran who completed two tours in Iraq. She was on Active duty Army stationed at Hunter Army Airfield 3rd Infantry Division as a mechanic. Since returning home, Donna enjoys sharing her experiences and storytelling through writing. Her stories have been published in the New York Times, Writers Guild Initiative, Bards Initiative, Oberon, Long Island Poetry Association, and The Mighty, among other outlets. Donna has participated in various veteran writing workshops throughout NYC. Currently, she is studying for her licensing in social work. She is involved in World Team Sports, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, and Team Red White and Blue. In her spare time, she plays sled hockey for the Long Island Rough Riders.