I am the son of a highly-decorated World War Two veteran and today I am of mixed feelings. There is the feeling of pride and thankfulness that so many young people like my dad answered the call to duty six decades ago and performed so many heroic acts in defense of democracy. And there is the feeling of regret that our political leaders, since that war that ended with so many of the troops NOT “home alive in ‘45”, haven’t made many good decisions since then about appropriate use of American military power.
I am also a child of the Viet Nam era, and though I did not render service to our nation by bearing arms against the “enemy”, many of my close boyhood friends did, and many of them lost their lives shortly after they got that notorious letter in the mail – the one that said something like “your friends and neighbors have selected YOU to defend the United States of America.”
My late father was the Commander of his local VFW post, and when guys my age came back from the Viet Nam war and told their stories, dad and his fellow VFW members became increasingly disgusted with that unwinnable, unsustainable war, and the political leaders who so mismanaged it.
Today I must also acknowledge a feeling of disgust with my country, for a number of reasons. Our political leaders, some of them combat veterans, too often give lip service to men and women in uniform, and callously ignore the real-world needs of their families while they’re gone, and of the veterans themselves when they return. The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the official time marking the conclusion of the “war to end all wars”, World War 1 – which used to be called “Armistice Day” and in many nations, like Canada, is still called “Remembrance Day”- gives us pause to remember their service to our nation, but one day doesn’t cut it.
The headline of yesterday’s Wisconsin State Journal was “July 2011 pullout scratched” – still another broken promise from a politician. 1,265 of our troops have been killed in Afghanistan and 9,095 have been wounded. We’re asking our highly-trained combat soldiers to be social workers, police officers, public relations agents, and a score of other duties that are at best tangentially related to the stated mission. We’re asking our citizen-soldiers from the National Guard, many of them who’ve already given years of service to their country, to do the unthinkable and completely uproot their lives and families to give still more – with so little recompense.
I wish we could honor our brave soldiers on this day by keeping ALL of our nation’s promises to them.