This is Us: War Changes People


As demonstrated in last week’s episode of This is Us, war changes people. Watching an episode full of wartime experiences also makes the viewer consider the struggle for peace.

As usual, when I hunkered down in my comfy recliner, blanket wrapped around me, to watch my favorite series, This Is Us, I thought I was prepared for the unfolding of the storyline of Jack’s time in Vietnam. Even as a veteran (not literally, but of this show’s bombshell revelations), I was hit hard by what occurred.

I knew that Jack held some bone-deep pain at what he witnessed but thought it related solely to the loss of his beloved brother, Nicky. Their bond was revealed in a scene last season when they were in the car together while their intoxicated father was in a bar. Jack vowed to take care of his little bro and he tried to fulfill that promise throughout their short lives together.

In the most recent episode of This is Us, new dynamics were brought into the mix. A brother-in-arms was wounded in such a way that had him sent home, and, decades later, this soldier remained connected to Jack’s life as Kevin’s conduit to his dad’s story.

The October 18th factor was especially chilling. This was Nicky’s birthdate and his fatal call to action as he and Jack sat in a bar, downing a few drinks while watching the announcement of the draft numbers. Although I was young during the war, I recall those terrifying feelings people spoke of that could have them either feeling immense relief or terrible dread if they or their loved ones either ‘dodged the bullet’ or risked being struck down by one.

As Nicky was lying in his crib in the nursery, their father brought Jack to see him. Rows and rows of infants, innocent, safely cradled, all born on that day, would become cannon fodder years later. What flashed before me were images of rows of tombstones in their place.

Watching “Wartime” made me think of the struggle for world peace. This past weekend, I was in Washington, DC for a gathering that encouraged peace and social justice. I offered free hugs on a simultaneously planned and spontaneous basis. In other words, I walked around a sign with those words on it and ask if people would like a hug. Most do. A few decline.  I honor either choice. In the four years since I began, I estimate that I have hugged thousands of willing people.

On that day, I meandered down to the Vietnam Memorial Wall, where visitors from all over the world make a pilgrimage to honor those who were either ‘declared dead’ or MIA in that time period. As of May 2018, there were 58,320 names, including eight women. As I walked down the path and touched the black marble surface, I imagined the fictional character of Nick Pearson with his name engraved. Some of the visitors smiled at my sign and opened their arms, some waited for my invitation and others shook their heads. I endeavored to bring a peaceful presence to a somber scene.

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I look forward to tonight’s episode perhaps to discover how Jack’s once sober father became a raging, abusive alcoholic who clearly was fighting his own battles.