Schools, like too many of us, gave up on Veteran’s Day long ago. It became a nuisance to working parents who were better served by a reserve snow day than a tribute to some history book footnotes. For those that are off from work the department stores are all having sales so why bother with repetitive ritualistic ceremonies? The day is only about some men and women who won some wars and for now, America is status quo, after all they’re only America’s Veterans.
While a lot of Americans get a day off in November to celebrate shopping malls, in cemeteries, Veterans’ halls and military bases small groups of citizens gather to remember. Most of them move a lot more slowly then they did at Normandy, Anzio, Guadalcanal, Inchon or Tet, but the glint in their eyes, glistened by the occasional tear is the look of well deserved pride. They are the only Americans that truly know the cost of freedom.
In Pennsylvania there are 1.6 million Veterans. Sacred in the American budget process, woe be the politician who dares take a dollar from their entitlements. Woe be is right. Unlike the armies of consultants, planners, academics and dreamers who claim the right to live off the public dole when we support Veterans’ rights we are paying a debt of honor.
Tradition lives on. Like the typhus that choked them to death at Valley Forge and the malaria that strangled them at Bataan, today their 20 year old lungs are threatened by Iraq’s anthrax. All people are equal in death, but they don’t die equally. Their risk is in the hands of people who now make decisions with sympathy for political correctness rather than sound strategic doctrine.
Virtually all those decisions in the last six years have been bad ones for the front line military. While the Secretary of Defense studies the 21st century, the brave men and women who are ready to fight today are last on the budget list. While the Secretary of State struggles with the sensitivities of the United Nations’ new world dis-order the administration accepts with a dangerous arrogance UN command of our troops in so-called peace-keeping missions. The Somalia mission taught us the foolishness of that doctrine yet we persist in creating future American Veterans.
Standing in a National Guard barracks on Veterans’ Day, watching those who have served honor those who now serve, those of us who have spent their day of commemoration in shopping malls should hang our heads in shame. Not that we failed to honor them because they don’t ask for that. Our shame should come from failing to respect their memories. Forgetting the lessons of their victories is to take the ultimate risk of offering up our children to the demons of war. Somewhere in the recesses of our collective conscious we’ve concluded that if it ever happens again, somebody else’s child will go, never contemplating the consequences of our national forgetfulness and the risk that nobody’s child will be willing to go. Particularly true when the nation’s political leaders believe that the concepts of truth and honor are subject to interpretation based on the latest opinion polls.
The men and women who have known war are the last ones to want another one. The generation of World War II and Korea, the Vietnam era and Iraq used their brains and their blood to build a generation of peace. In addition to those 1.6 million Pennsylvania Vets there are 2.5 million spouses and descendants of Veterans in the state. As we gather this Thanksgiving to give thanks for our abundance many of them will be at our tables. We can remedy our shame, correct our faulty memories and continue them for the first entire generation in this century that has never seen the horror of global war. We can toast the people who made the abundant harvest we celebrate possible. After all is said and done they paid a rich price for it: they are America’s Veterans.