In my short lifetime, I have seen the results of six of our longest wars. One of my uncles came back from World War I, “The War to End All Wars,” with mental issues and no sense of taste or smell, thanks to a mustard-gas attack. Yet he didn’t get his service bonus that had been promised by those who sent him into harm’s way.
Two of my cousins went to fight in World War II and never came back.
I served in Korea, fighting communism, only to find a few decades after the end of that war, which cost us 37,000 of our young, that we were buying most of our cheap goods from a communist country. Our own American Legion here sold caps made in China till I complained and found three sources in the United States that sold them: Denver, San Diego and Bayshore, Long Island. A little more expensive, but not as costly as the price paid by those we mourn.
Then came Vietnam. Same reason, bigger losses, and a shameful treatment of those who survived.
Now we have 14 years of conflict in the Middle East and seem to be losing. We keep building monuments in memory of those who paid the highest price. We salved our conscience over Vietnam with a wall of names, yet ignored the thousands of small living monuments among us with physical disabilities, drug addiction, or mental illness. Over the generations we keep making up different names for the same condition: shell-shock, battle fatigue, and now posttraumatic stress disorder.
The TV news shows love to give us heartwarming footage of veterans being greeted by their loved ones. I too feel a lift when I see a mother or father return home from this carnage and surprise a young child in school, with all the hugs and kisses and tears of joy. But the picture that sticks with me is the one of a stalwart young boy in his new black suit, holding the carefully folded flag to his heart, chin quivering as he stands by his father’s casket.
When I was young, my home town completely shut down on Armistice Day (now Veterans Day). We didn’t “celebrate” it, because what is there to celebrate, once you realize what the cost of war really is? – the loss of thousands of future teachers, statesmen, doctors, inventors, laborers, ministers, farmers and others. Instead, for us it was a time of solemn reflection, a time to honor all those who served and to remember the loss of life, limb, youth and innocence.
Many years later, however, it seems that the greedy profiteers who lurk behind the scenes in all wars weren’t satisfied with the spoils of the carnage. They have hijacked this oncequiet holiday to turn it into a revelry. Mattress sales! Furniture discounts! Huge savings on a gas-guzzling air-polluting behemoth! Buy three, get the fourth free – is that the “freedom” we earned with lives and blood?
We know greed has no allegiance to country or flag. But why do we allow greed to lead us into temptation and not allow us one day of the year for reflection? Why do we let it distract us from the shameful treatment of our veterans? – not just after Vietnam, but even today.
We give lip service to honoring our veterans, but in reality we don’t do much for them. Our VA hospitals are underfunded. There are long waits for care. Sixty-seven thousand veterans are homeless. Many are on food stamps and unemployed. A survey by the organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 16 percent of their members were unemployed as of January of this year.
We fight their claims for compensation for medical problems. It took many years for us to admit that Agent Orange was a cancercausing chemical. If it killed our closest primate cousins, insects, and foliage, there should have been little question that it was harmful to our troops.
At one time this nation did show respect for our returning veterans and their families (who also paid a great price). After World War II we brought our soldiers home with pride. We made it possible for them to get an education and to buy homes at a modest price. In return they put their shoulder to the wheel and became the greatest generation.
What a contrast today. I just received my quarterly request from Disabled American Veterans seeking a small donation. Why must our wounded beg for help, when the corporations prospering from their service have turned the day supposedly set aside to honor the veterans into a day of greater profits for the greedy?
Just last month Congress shut down the government for 16 days over health care for the masses, and people applauded. Why then shouldn’t we close down the big-box corporate stores for one day to pay homage to those who have served our democracy?
If this country cannot shut down one day out of the year to pay a genuine and solemn tribute to our veterans, shame on us.
How sleep the brave, who sink to rest
By all their country’s wishes blest!
When Spring, with dewy fingers cold,
Returns to deck their hallow’d mould,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy’s feet have ever trod.
By fairy hands their knell is rung;
By forms unseen their dirge is sung;
There Honour comes, a pilgrim grey,
To bless the turf that wraps their clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair
To dwell, a weeping hermit, there!
— By William Collins, 1746 — another memorial to another forgotten war.
Galen Larson writes from Montezuma County, Colo.