Seventy years

It’s been seventy years since D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Neither I nor my wife were yet born. My father was too young for WW1 and too old for WW2. He also worked in an exempt industry, coal mining.

U.S. troops disembark from a landing vehicle on Utah Beach on the coast of Normandy, France in June of 1944. Carcasses of destroyed vehicles litter the beach. (Regional Council of Basse-Normandie/U.S. National Archives)

My wife’s father, on the other hand, was in the Army and fought in WW2. He went ashore in France at one of the D-Day landing sites. I don’t know which one. He wasn’t in the first way, but went ashore in one of the following waves. He was captured later and escaped when the train taking allied prisoners back to Germany was strafed by allied planes. I don’t know more of his history. He never talked to me much about them. It’s also possible my memory of his comments has been corrupted over time.

Most families today had a least one family member who was in WW2. In 1945, the United States military contained 16.1 million soldiers, sailors, and marines out of a population of 139 million. That was nearly 12% of the total population in uniform.

When I was in my teens, in school and later college, nearly all the adult men, and a significant number of the adult women, were veterans. That fact was supported by one reason, the draft that continued from before WW2. The draft, while widely disliked, did have a positive result, a significant percentage of the US population were continued to be veterans.

The draft changed during my senior year in college to a lottery. It was too late for me. I had to make a choice to be drafted in the the Army or the Marines (yes, they did draft into the Marines at that time) or take advantage of my Air Force ROTC and go into the Air Force. I followed the Air Force adage, “It’s better to fly over it than to walk through it.”

A few months later, the lottery took effect. I have no idea what my lottery number was. I still don’t. I went in and did my time. A few years later, the Selective Service was suspended and the military no longer conscripted recruits. The consequence was a drastic reduction of military servicemen and the resulting veterans. today, the percentage of all veterans compared to the total population is low, only 6.5%.

Out of a population of 313.3 million (2012), there are 21.2 million living veterans, 7.6 million of those are from the Vietnam war. I’m one of the 7.6 million.

I suppose it should not be unexpected that respect for veterans has decreased over the years. While the military is still viewed with respect for much of the country, the left has disparaged the military and veterans since the 1960s. I still remember warnings from my time in the Air Force to not wear my uniform off base unless I was in transit  to or from my duty post and home, or on official business. The left has learned since then to not be as vocal and public with their abuse, but the abuse is still there. You only have to look at the state of the Veteran’s Administration to see that the liberal abuse of the military and veterans has become institutionalized.

Robert A. Heinlein once wrote a novel called Starship Troopers. In it, veterans, abandoned by their governments, revolted. After the dust died down, society was divided. Citizenship, and the resulting political power, was limited to veterans. If you wanted the vote, you had to serve. In fact, if you wanted to join, you could not be turned down. Something would be found for you to do to earn citizenship, even if, “it was counting the fuzz on caterpillars with your fingers.

Is this a good idea? It has been discussed my many over the decades. The left hates it. The right, for the most part, embraces it. However the current crop of politicians would flee in panic from any discussion on this subject. But the idea that citizenship—and the benefits thereof, should be earned is a good one and it remains a valid argument.

When you see Obama pontificating in Europe about D-Day, also remember that he, like democrat Bill Clinton, never served.

Coming into Memorial Day

This is Memorial Day weekend. The holiday was originally called Decoration Day and many oldsters still call it that. The first Decoration Day was organized by Union Civil War veterans who collectively were called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). That first celebration was held in Arlington National Cemetery three years after the end of that  war.

It has been nearly 150 years since that first observance. Over the years the name has changed to Memorial Day and instead of being a veterans-only memorial, it has expanded to include all of those who have preceded us into that next phase of life.

Still, we continue to memorialize veterans first over the others. Each of us have some one whom we remember because as long as we still remember them, they will not fade into History; their individuality gone from our collective memory.

Tomorrow, my local city will hold a Veteran’s March, a few blocks from a local church to a cemetery where some Civil War veterans are buried. We no longer remember them as individuals, their personalities have been lost in time. But, we can remember their names, their units, and, with some research, we could rebuild some of their history, fleshing their names into people with families and deeds. Perhaps that would be a good school project, researching some of those names and recreating, as much as possible, the people who wore them and their lives.


Sgt. Kenneth Wayne Tate, US Army, 1946-1967

I’ve one name I remember, Kenneth Tate, a distant cousin who was the first from Franklin County, IL to die in the Viet Nam War. We weren’t close but we were high school classmates and we shared a number of common cousins. We lived at opposite ends of the county, he in the northeast, me in the southwest. Outside of school, we would meet occasionally at family functions. I wrote a blog post about Ken Tate a few years ago.

It is a bit unnerving to realize Ken Tate has been gone 47 years. I can still remember him as he appeared, sitting next to me in high school chemistry, physics and math classes.

People talk about the dwindling number of WW2 veterans. They are not the only ones slipping away. My brother-in-law was a Korean War veteran. He’s long gone, too. And as those of us, of my generation, who served, our numbers are diminishing as well.

The attention now is focused, rightfully, to those entering the veteran ranks, the ones who landed on Grenada, Panama, Gulf Wars I and II and finally, Afghanistan. They have needs, as much and often more, than those of us from earlier times. I’ve been fortunate to not need assistance from the Veteran’s Administration. I hope to never need any, let those who do need help have priority.

But never forget. The nation owes veterans. Veterans should never take second place to any group, any segment of the population. Veterans have earned their rights the hard way with their bodies and their lives.

Now that Memorial Day weekend is here, remember what is owed to veterans. Winston Churchill said, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” It is still applicable today.