My father is a Navy veteran, and you'd think he'd served in McHale's Navy, to hear his war stories. For example, he tells about the time he accidentally ended up being his brother's commanding officer. It took me some time to realize that this happened because of a surprise attack where the ships scrambled out of port to avoid another Pearl Harbor, and sailors who'd been visiting on other ships just got taken along for the ride and put to work at what was their usual duty station on their own ships. But to hear him tell it, it was ha-ha, sibling rivalry on the high seas!
It was only AFTER the war that he told my mother exactly how much into harm's way he'd been, and I didn't hear that until I was well past 21. I know that he had a gun, and I figure that means that there's a risk he shot it...but he obviously doesn't want to talk about that. I think that for many veterans, it's their last duty of protecting the civilians: not telling us what it was like, and I have to respect that.
My niece is married to an Apache pilot, and he returned from Afghanistan just before Christmas in 2011. He gave my father a flag. I was close enough to hear them talking. My father was asking about the significance of the flag, and my nephew-by-marriage said that he had carried in his helicopter during the mission they flew on 9-11. He then said, quietly, 'There's a few less bad guys out there now.' That's all he's ever said about his job, and I don't think he would have even said that much except to another veteran. Otherwise, his war stories are like my father's...what a funny, funny place Afghanistan is.