War Stories

War Stories

What Can You Do With A Veteran?

By Callie Oettinger | Published: November 7, 2011

“What can you do with a general when he stops being a general?” —White Christmas

The refrain from the White Christmas song, “What Can You Do With A General” has been running random laps through my mind for the past few decades.

I loved watching the musical as a kid, but the serious plot lines were lost to me. They didn’t break through the happy-let’s-get-ready-to-celebrate-Christmas plot lines.

I was thinking about Veterans Day this Friday—11-11-11—when the refrain marched through again, so I looked up the lyrics for the entire song.

When the war was over, why, there were jobs galore
For the G.I. Josephs who were in the war
But for the generals things were not so grand
And it’s not so hard to understand

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?

Who’s got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires

They fill his chest with medals while he’s across the foam
And they spread the crimson carpet when he comes marching home
The next day someone hollers when he comes into view
“Here comes the general” and they all say “General who?”
They’re all delighted that he came
But they can’t recall his name.

Nobody thinks of assigning him
When they stop wining and dining him
It seems this country never has enjoyed
So many one and two and three and four star generals
Unemployed

The focus of the unemployment lines were a surprise—the generals are the ones unemployed, while there are “jobs galore” for the others who “were in the war.”

If the song was written today, I think it might run more along the lines of:

When the war was over, why, there were TV analyst and board-member jobs galore
For the well-spoken generals who were in the war
But for the others, things were not so grand
And that’s the rub that’s hard to understand

What can you do with a veteran
When he stops being a servicemember?
What can you do with a veteran home from war?

Who’s got a job or top-of-the-line medical help for a veteran
When he stops being a servicemember?
Oh, what can you do with a veteran coming home?

They fill his chest with medals while he’s across the foam
And they spread the crimson carpet when he comes marching home
The next day someone hollers when he comes into view
“Here comes the veteran” and they all say “veteran who?”
They’re all delighted that he came
But they can’t recall his name.

Nobody thinks of assigning him
When they stop wining and dining him
It seems this country never has enjoyed
So many veterans
Unemployed

Sure, there are organizations advocating for veterans—just as there are companies wanting to work with veterans. But that refrain, still goes marching through my brain, “What Do You Do With A Veteran Coming Home?” There’s always more.

Observe, Honor, Reflect & Remember: 11-11-11

Posted in War Stories

6 Responses to “What Can You Do With A Veteran?”

  1. Wiz
    November 7, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Well done Callie.

  2. November 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Great post, SP. I think it speaks to the times in general (no pun intended). It seems to me that yesterday’s manufacturing, craftsman type jobs, largely occupied by the blue-collar, soldier class have been done away with. We are a nation driven by media now. Just how that factors in to the big picture, I’m not sure.

    On a side note, my kids LOVE White Christmas and ask to see it every year at this time. And believe it or not, they get the message. Of course, the message of the movie is that the general leads from the front, and that means going to the back of the line when the war is over.

    Sadly, those days are gone. It’s too seductive, I guess, to join the ranks of the more fortunate and leave the ranks of the loyal behind.

    Keep up the great work!

    btw…not so sure what the muse thinks of all this media stuff?

  3. November 7, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Great post, Mr. Pressfield.

    I think one of the biggest problems for returning vets is the utter lack of understanding from the private sector. For every article or story that highlights a successful vet, there are plenty of others that gravitate toward the old “crazy, PTSD plagued vet.” Considering only .45% of the American population has served during the GWOT, there’s a lot of misconceptions about vets and what they can bring to the table of the workforce.

  4. November 8, 2011 at 3:33 am

    That song in White Christmas has always haunted me amid all the glitz and eye candy of that film.

    Your rewrite makes it even more haunting and real. A good call to awareness and action.

  5. Tina
    November 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    What about the many veterans that have been maimed by IED’s — that have been left with severe burns, brain injuries, blindness, not to mention the loss of limbs — some with a combination! There are a lot of them too!

    In general, some people think a simple “Thank-you for your service” to a seasoned veteran makes it alright A proper thank-you from a grateful nation (government) should be something significant like land or a house or a position in a profession/trade — something that gives them a sense that their service is truly valued and that it was not all for nothing.

  6. David Kaufmann
    November 10, 2011 at 4:31 am

    As with Vietnam, so now. Little changes. See George Carlin on “shell shock.”