Space shuttle Discovery: A proud achievement

It wasn’t too long ago that the American middle class was fresh from fighting a worldwide war that kept not only Americans, but people everywhere, free to live their lives without the jack-booted thugs of tyranny – the warlords of Germany and Japan – calling the shots. It cost us plenty – in lives and limbs, of course, but also in the money to fight it – taxes gladly paid by a nation that knew more than a little about sacrifice and the cost of freedom.

And soon after that conflict was decisively settled, it was the taxes and public education system of the American middle class, including, perhaps most importantly, the G.I. bill, that allowed millions of smart but poor returning vets to gain college degrees and develop skills that would cause the American economy to boom and our fledgling space program to thrive. And, in turn, for the U.S. to ultimately “win” the space race by landing men on the moon and building a permanent space station, along with our Russian rivals, a joint effort that played a large part in ending that strange phenomenon known as the Cold War.

So it was truly appropriate that on this year’s Tax Day, April 17, we could display to the world with great pride one of the most important and integral parts of that efforts to conquer space by flying the space shuttle Discovery around our nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C., to display it in flight one final time before coming to rest at the Smithsonian Museum as the star of its giant Aerospace wing.

The Discovery rode piggy-back on a giant 747 customized just for this purpose, and what a grand sight it was to see it circle our nation’s capitol, making a statement no politician ever could about what our country stands for, particularly its middle class – you know, we peons who keep the wheels of industry and commerce turning by showing up at work every day, paying our taxes and supporting our government through thick and thin, even if it may not have been the one we voted for and one that made decisions with which we may strongly disagree.

How cannot we all be bursting with pride for producing the men and women who brought us this great feat.

But let’s face it: None of this could have been accomplished without the public education system we’ve nurtured through the years, through times of trial such as the Great Depression and even the Civil War, or without a knowledgeable union labor force with the skills and talents to produce the hardware for this great adventure and, first and foremost, the taxes paid by a middle class, to support the effort.

No other nation, including the despotic Soviet Union, had the means and will to accomplish this. It took a free society willing to pay the price for “going where no man has gone before,” as they used to say in some old TV show, to accomplish this amazing feat.

So forgive me. as one of those peons who contributed in his own small way to make this happen, for having swelled with great pride as I watched the patched and worn shuttle circle the capitol of the greatest nation on earth (despite its many flaws that I occasionally point out).

My hat is off to what has been rightly dubbed “the greatest generation” that accomplished this feat in spite of the naysayers and faultfinders who opposed their efforts from the start.

Now if we can emulate them to a slight degree, put aside our petty differences, pay our bills even if it means raising taxes on those who can well afford it, rebuild our education system by fairly rewarding those who do that important work, and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure that has been too long neglected by politicians more interested in their own fortunes than the nation’s welfare, we can set newer, even higher goals and begin a new journey that will reap us all greater rewards.

This, of course, can only be accomplished if we disregard the fear-mongering of those political candidates who will do and say anything to get elected and have powerful interest groups such as the Koch brothers and ALEC behind them who want things to return to the days of no regulations on private industry, dirty water and polluted air, and times when advocates of the average working men and women were labeled socialists and communists who were trying to undermine our great democracy.

Sound familiar? But I’ll get into that can of worms in future articles.

For now, let’s just take a moment and feel good that our taxes – that’s yours and mine – contributed to one of the greatest endeavors we’ve yet achieved. And let it be an inspiration to accomplish even more.

Galen Larson writes from Montezuma County, Colo.

From Galen Larson.