I can’t think anyone currently serving in the U.S. military nor a veteran for whom I have less than the greatest respect. My father and uncle were World War 2 veterans and my uncle a career Navy man. My nephew is an Air Force Academy graduate who was just promoted to the rank of Colonel and will shortly move with his family to Okinawa, I believe for the third time. My father was incredibly proud of his service in Europe in a medical evac unit. It meant so much to arrange a veterans salute at his graveside service and the memory of my nephew in his dress uniform saluting him ramrod straight will forever be etched in my mind.
My nephew tells me the world is a far more dangerous place than most of us know, and that’s about all he can say about it. Those in our military have always known that, whether the threat is a bullet or bio-terrorism. We can sleep at night because of the vigilance of these people and the risks in which they place themselves to keep us safe, to preserve peace if possible, and to prepare for war if necessary. I am continually amazed at the stories of excellence, of courage, and of heroism that come from the ranks of those who are simply doing their duty to the very best of their ability. It seems so appropriate to pay tribute to those both living and those who have died, for this sacrifice.
It seems this Memorial Day that there are at least two ways beyond the moments of silence, the tributes, and the parades that we can honor these who truly deserve honor.
One is to clean up this mess in the Veterans Administration. In my father’s last years, I helped him secure various benefits he was qualified for as a veteran. What I found is that the people we dealt with were in fact deeply caring individuals who were embedded in a deeply dysfunctional bureaucracy. News revelations of recent weeks and the difficulties of veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries to secure treatment in a timely fashion which is so crucial for healing in unconscionable.
The other is much longer range. Several years ago, I was in a somewhat tense dialogue with a friend with sons in the military because I had expressed on social media grave concern over decisions made in Iraq. This was perceived as not “supporting the boys”, including sons of his own serving in Iraq. I responded that it was precisely because I did care deeply and valued the service of these young men and women that I sought to exercise my responsibilities as a citizen. It is always the case with war that older leaders, mostly men, will make decisions that result in young people fighting and dying, or living with the memories of the brutality of war. I think we must honor the sacrifices of these men and women regardless of the wisdom of those who sent them there. But it seems the best way we honor those who train and prepare to put themselves in harm’s way is to never send them to this needlessly, nor with less than all they need to fight with effectiveness. Fool’s errands, and wars fought on the cheap dishonor those who serve and parades in a thousand small towns and large cities will never make up for that.