I hope everyone enjoyed their recent Memorial Day weekend. Many Louisianans were vacationing over the long holiday or enjoying a cookout with family and friends. Many stores held sales advertising for us to have a “Happy Memorial Day.” All well and good, but what about the real purpose of this special day?
Many of us don’t even know the difference between Memorial Day (honoring those who died defending our country) and Veterans Day (honoring all service men and women). Only 5% of Americans attended local military events or parades. I joined a sparsely attended gathering Memorial Day at the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge. Is it enough to holler USA at sporting events, or to say “Thank you for your service” when you see a service man or women in uniform? Should Americans be required to do more?
In 1967, I was 27 years old and newly married with my first child on the way. So I was draft exempt, with no legal requirement to join the service. Maybe I did not have a legal obligation, but what about a moral responsibility to serve my country in the time of war?
I come from a long line of distinguished military officers who never hesitated to serve their country. They did not try to find ways to sidestep such service like so many others, including most of our politicians today as well as several recent presidents.
Relatives on both sides of my family served their country with honor and distinction. My first father-in-law Dick Campbell who was an ace fighter pilot, rose to the rank of full colonel in the Army, and twice escaped from German prison camps. My Dad stayed stateside coordinating military transportation coast to coast for the Army. Second father-in-law Teddy Solomon was sent by the Army to the South Pacific. My younger brother Jack volunteered and joined the National Guard for a six-year hitch.
My mother’s brother had quite a navel military career. In the final months of World War II, Commander Jack Gentry was flying a reconnaissance mission over the Pacific when his flight cameras captured photos of the Japanese flotilla. He made the cover of Life Magazine as his pictures allowed a direct attack on the enemy fleet that sped up the ending of the war with Japan. He went on to command the battleship USS Enterprise until his retirement from the Navy in the 1960s.
With this strong family military background, I felt an obligation to continue the service to my country. I make no bones about the fact that I feel every American should either serve in the military or perform voluntary service in the city or state where they live. The American flag flies outside my home 365 days a year. I wear my military dog tags while I broadcast my syndicated radio program each week (NG25520050).
This is not an effort to pat myself on my back. Like so many other young men and women who love their country, it was something I felt a strong obligation to do. So despite the fact that I was draft exempt, I signed up for service in the Army, then stayed for ten additional years in the Louisiana National Guard.
Our nation has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan going on two decades. Yet many Americans look on war as a spectator sport. So few have any real skin in the game.
I recently read a book by military scholar George Wilson called “The Mud Soldiers,” where he laments over the problems with an all-volunteer army. He quotes Vietnam veteran Col. Steve Siegfried who states: “Armies don’t fight wars. Countries fight wars….. Yes a country fights a war. If it doesn’t, then we shouldn’t send an army.
War should be every citizen’s business. We should all perform some volunteer service, military or otherwise. This should be an easy decision if we love our country and care about our freedom.
The president last week suggested that the nation establish a yearly military parade to honor the service and the sacrifice of the current military and our veterans. He spoke of it as “a unifying moment for the country.” Almost immediately, the Trump naysayers jumped all over the idea as nothing more than “pandering patriotism.” “Tanks, but no tanks,” was the opinion of the Washington Post.
Former Obama State Department spokesman and retired Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby ripped the idea by saying: “This is just beneath us as a nation. We are the most powerful military on earth. We don’t need to be parading our military hardware down Pennsylvania Avenue to show that to anybody.”
I personally think a number of Trump ideas are a little loony, but in this case, he is right on the mark. America has done a poor job honoring those who served in the military. The only voices who are “pandering patriots” are the numerous chick hawks who dodged the draft yet go around with the American flag on their lapel telling us to “stand up for the USA,” as they ran for the foxholes when service to their country called.
Remember former Vice President Dick Cheney’s response when asked why he didn’t serve his country in the military? In 1989 he told the Washington Post, “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service.” His unpatriotic attitude is mirrored by many current members of congress who often used every trick in the book to avoid serving in the military.
Many congressmen think wearing an American flag lapel pin is some kind of fashion statement. But that doesn’t cut it to the thousands of Americans who have dedicated a portion of their lives to public service. Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy never wore lapel pins. Sen. John McCain, who was tortured for five years in a Viet Cong prison, doesn’t feel it necessary to wear his patriotism on his suit coat.
And how about General John F. Kelly, Trump’s current chief of staff? He served over 40 years in the military, fighting in the initial invasion of Iraq and in Desert Storm. And he’s a Gold Star father as his son, serving in the Marines, was killed fighting in Afghanistan. When asked why he doesn’t wear a flag pin, he responded: “I am an American flag.”
The message here is that wear a flag if you wish, but do not think this gesture substitutes for active public service to your country. Particularly in Louisiana, we need to honor those who have given so much for our freedom. The Bayou State has an exceptionally high number of war casualties who died in Iraq with 41 National Guard soldiers alone from the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team based out of Lafayette and Shreveport.
I enlisted in the 256th Infantry Brigade back in 1967. I was just out of Tulane Law School and beginning my law practice up in Ferriday, Louisiana, with my first child on the way. Since I was over 26, I was draft exempt. But I volunteered anyway serving both in the Army and 12 years in the Louisiana National Guard. Hey, I didn’t consider myself anything special. It was what thousands of Americans did. It was, to us, the American way and a call to duty.
The nation has numerous celebrations and parades on a local level for Veterans Day (November 11th) and Memorial Day (last Monday of the month), but there is no national military parade honoring those who served. You are right Mr. President. The world needs to see that America rallies around our military on a special day with a full review of all branches of the nation’s armed forces.
Veteran’s Day in November would be my suggestion. This year would celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. A national military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on November 11th? I’ll be there joining thousands of others who volunteered to serve.
Peace and Justice