ED Note: Danielle Catanese is a former Navy Corpsman and traveling nurse. We met her early on in our current stay in Key West. She is also a food critic of sorts, and so we have spent a lot of time together checking out Key West's unique culinary offerings. This has led to some great conversations wherein I learned of her personal military history. I in turn shared mine with her, highlighting the experiences that led to my involvement and subsequent history with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and it's interactions with Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW). Danielle has since signed on with IVAW, and is particularly interested in IVAW's Operation Recovery. One afternoon during a visit with us, she sat and penned this piece, which reflect her inner thoughts on our conversations, and their impact on her consciousness of the contradictions entwined in it all. It is a great example of the definition of the meaning of the word vetspeak, and the art of speaking truth to power; so, with her permission, I share it here with y'all. WH
I am a witness. I am a witness to pride, elation, sadness, and grief. I am a witness to greatness and defeat, of military prowess and stupidity, of compassion and apathy. I am a veteran of the United States Navy. As a Hospital Corpsman stationed stateside, overseas, shipboard, and forward deployed, I have witnessed almost every emotion one could think of. I have also witnessed many situations from intense to mundane, all of which are unique to me and my ability to deal with their reality.
As a witness, it is my responsibility to my brothers and sisters in uniform to offer an ear, a shoulder, an outlet, or assistance finding professional help for the gambit of emotions and situations they have experienced first hand or witnessed themselves. Another responsibility of being a witness is to share my own experiences, reactions, and resolutions with others so that they may become witnesses too. People may say that being a witness is not as important as being reactionary, but I beg to differ.
Bearing witness to an event, situation, or emotion makes them real to the masses; for they have not been there, seen what we have, lived the way we have, or coped like us. The events, situations, and emotions become undeniable when tens, hundreds, and thousands of people with similar experiences join together to bear witness.
Revolution stems from a connected, informed, well organized base of witnesses. Without witnesses, there cannot be change; for the masses will remain ignorant of our pride, elation, sadness, and grief. They will not be able to relate to our situations and stand behind us. We cannot win our fight for acknowledgement and acceptance without support from each other, as well as those who have not served. I am a witness, are you?
Danielle R. Catanese
U.S. Navy Veteran