17 Nov '14     home | previous

Veterans Day

Concerning the Navy Seal claiming to have killed Bin Laden, someone tweeted a complaint a couple of days ago (15 Nov '14) that read, "I thought Navy Seals didn't do their job for glory."

A few days ago was Veterans Day in the United States, a day when the nation thanks its veterans for their service. I try to keep in mind the meaning of words and note that the common meaning of service is helping someone or some cause – other than self, as in posturing or ego-promotion.

I'm not against the public giving veterans attention, and when people thank me for my service I take it as kindness. I thank them back and don't want them to think that I think I'm better than they.

But for me, like many other vets, it's the dead and severely wounded who actually deserve the attention. We do have Memorial Day as a federal holiday for remembering people who died fighting in wars. That began as remembrance for military people of both the Union and South who died in the Civil War back in the 1860s. It has nothing to do with whether the cause they were fighting for was just. And both those dying for the Union and for the Confederates could not have been fighting for a just cause, Which brings me to Vietnam veterans. In my opinion, Vietnam veterans had the extra burden of being involved in a war that should not have been fought. They did not have university degrees that focused on Southeast Asia history. It was the same for me when I volunteered for three years of service in the Marine Corps and went to Korea in 1952. I knew nothing about Korea, North or South. I did what I was told and assumed that my country – and the United Nations – was doing the right thing. I was lucky. My service was for a good cause, and I'd like to see Vietnam Veterans receive the same respect for their service that I have received.

I say this with the same disdain for glory expressed in the complaint in the first sentence of this piece. And despite all I've just written, I am uncomfortable with Veterans Day. I had to turn off the evening television news.

In the Marine Corps I repeatedly saw expressions of dislike for attempts at winning a medal, and we know of people who have received the highest of honors who regretted the attention. They did what they did out of concern for those alongside them, without aiming at public attention. The minority of veterans who have been burdened by extensive combat, I gather, tend to dislike parading themselves and see no glory in war.

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day. That's what it's still called in Europe, where it was born. There were those, including our country's General Pershing, who opposed the armistice. He wanted the war against Germany to continue. The word armistice has an element of pacifism about it that some in the US dislike. It is my opinion that US involvement in World War One was nonsense. Men died to save the world for democracy, but that didn't happen. That war should have ended in a more equitable settlement than the one that came about as a result of US troops having joined the war.

Armistice Day became Veterans Day during the Eisenhower Administration, around the same time that sentiment led to putting "in God we trust" on our coins. In my opinion, this was an innocuous move, but I wonder about the sentiment and ask why people want to parade their trust in God? The same goes for wearing an American flag on one's lapel. If you trust in God, trust in God. If you want to be a good American, study the issues. Pomposity on our coins and on our lapels and marching with insignias remains just pomposity.

In the Marine Corps I met guys who were competent at what they did and were without posturing or pomposity, including a close friend Donald Ritchie who received a battlefield promotion to sergeant for keeping his head and giving his platoon direction. They were not loud-mouths or braggarts. In Korea over and over again I heard ridicule expressed concerning glory seeking. I heard it also during boot camp with deriding comments about playing John Wayne. It's still with me as a wonder about someone trying to exploit the glory that others see in his having killed someone.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.