As we all know today is Veterans Day. We celebrate those who served our country, died in the war or God forbid, went missing in action. To many of us the meaning is lost. The school kids look at this as a day off. For some districts this is when they do the parent teacher conferences and the kids hope they don’t get a bad report for all the shiteous behavior they normally engage in. Other kids catch up on trashy day time talk shows and cartoons. Teachers view it as a day off where they are free from all the screaming Susie’s and Jimmy’s and their equally more annoying errant parents. As for those who work in the banks, the post office or any other government sanctioned position they are sleeping in today counting their blessings that this is one day they have off that many others do not. I must say this is insulting to me as an American.
I have always vocally opposed the war in Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction and in the 1980s, we seem to forget, Reagan and Saddam Hussein were friends. However there was oil and money involved and that’s when things went south. Nevermind that unlike the rest of the Arab world, Saddam gave the people universal healthcare, the right to choose, the women were allowed to work, and basically it was a free democratic society. Yes he did kill those that opposed him but what do you call the Patriot Act? However much I opposed the war I will say one thing, I still always supported our troops.
I have several classmates who went to fight in the Middle East. Our local magistrate who was affiliated with the armed service was a military judge in Afghanistan for a tour during that time. The brother of one of my older brother’s former high school football team mates went over to fight in the Middle East. His family put the USMC flag in the front of their window next to the American flag waiting for their son to come home. We all thought George W. Bush was a dufus in my family. However, in church when we prayed for the troops this young man was always at the top of our prayer chain.
Another of my classmates, Russell Kurtz, died in action. Russ was a good guy who was liked by everyone who has the privilege of knowing him. He was a member of the football team, National Honor Society, and a few other clubs. Russ was one of those people who was always laughing and had those around him laughing as well. Despite the fact Russ had good grades he chose to join the military to go to Iraq because he had always wanted join since he was a kid. Though it was war time he didn’t complain, and according to those close to him the only thing he ever griped about was the food in boot camp. Russ was killed in action when his army jeep met with a planted bomb. I would never say my former classmate was a killer or that he died in vain for a useless war and a useless cause. Rather I would call him a hero who served his country who is remembered as he should be on this day.
Then again, Americans are apt to celebrate and remember only what they want to. Take the Vietnam War for example. Unlike the previous wars, none of these men received a hero’s welcome. As a matter of fact many of those guys who fought in one of the most violent wars America had ever encountered were ousted from society. Drafted to end Communism in a country who could never feasibly invade the United States, a draft was imposed. These guys, all the average age nineteen, couldn’t drink or vote but could die for their country. This was truly a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. Many of the rich stayed in college getting useless advanced degrees while the poor were forced to tough it out in the jungles watching their friends die and deal with boobie traps that included a net revealing a hungry Bangle Tiger as well as the ever present jungle rot.
What was even more criminal was that some of them became POW/MIA. I am not talking John McCain but Antonio R. Sandoval, Jr. He was eighteen years old from San Antonio, Texas when he went POW/MIA. My brother gave me his POW/MIA bracelet for my seventeenth birthday because it had occurred right after 9/11. My mother told me the goal was to wear the bracelet until he was returned. Sandoval was never returned as far as I know, but they think they found his bones a few years ago when the Cambodian government turned them over. While finally a part of him could go home, and for that reason it is important his memory is kept alive and his story is continually told.
Vietnam was something the American government should be ashamed of and the treatment of those veterans was equally as horrific. They had no assistance or jobs coming home. As I said earlier, it was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. My dad remembers being a part of the draft lottery and lucking out by getting a high number. However he remembers seeing kids from his block go off to fight in the jungle and coming home in a body bag if they ever came home. One kid who had a crappy home life on my dad’s street even volunteered. Which brings me to another point, many of these guys don’t join the army because they want to fight. It might be to escape a craptacular home situation and this is a viable option that gives them healthcare and a possible career as well as a trade. After the war many of these guys suffered from PTSD as well as drug addiction much like my uncle’ brother who, after many years of going from crack house to crack house with his hooker girlfriend, is now is a nursing home. These men served their country and were shuffled aside like useless lawn flamingos. Should we not take a moment to honor them?
Both my grandfathers served in the Pacific Theatre in World War II. My dad’s dad, whom I never met, went to Japan after the war and told stories about children eating out of trash cans and would get angry when my dad and his siblings would waste food. Hate to say it, for as fucked up as America is we still have it better then the rest of the world, especially the places that we bomb. While dropping the atomic bomb did cost thousands of lives and left a generation of Japanese children suffering from leukemia, it was a move that spared thousands of American lives that would have been lost during a land invasion. Truman was between a rock and a hard place, and in a war there is no true solution that is fair.
My mom’s dad rarely talks about World War II but always says that the Americans respected the Japanese because when the bomb was dropped they went back to work rebuilding their cities. Today the Japanese are some of our strongest allies. Gone are the time of kamkazi pilots and Tojo with a chorus of Tokyo Rose. America makes mistakes too such as putting thousands of Japanese Americans in internment camps when there was not one traitor amongst them. However, while this day is a day to honor our heros today is also a day to remember those mistakes, seeing that we have one in Cuba right now called Guantanamo Bay.
Wars for as much blood shed as they have put forth have also gotten America to be the world super power that it was. In 1763 the British won the French and Indian War taking over a large chunk of North America making English the mother tongue. In 1785 we won our independence from the British making us the first country to have ever defeated this naval and world super power. In 1812 we let the British know we weren’t about to be recaptured and let them force our men to be sailors. (Today they are fabulous allies). In 1836 Texas won it’s independence from Mexico, and then in 1848 the United States kicked Mexico out of Texas, California and most of the Southwest giving us states that are very valuable to the structure for several reasons. Of course 1865 brought an end to the American Civil War, which pitted brother against brother and not only kept this fledgling republic united but also abolished the inhuman practice of slavery. In 1898 Teddy Roosevelt and Company charged San Juan Hill ending Spanish occupation in North America, making most of Latin America independent, and not to mention giving us Puerto Rico and Guam which serve as military bases as well as fabulous vacation spots. Then in 1918 when World War I the supremacy of monarchy ended officially ended making the United States a world super power. Then in 1945 we helped our European friends whom now needed us to stop an evil tyrant named Adolf Hitler who, though he died, actually planned to invade the US. Yes, we should have been very afraid.
In honoring the veterans, we honor the achievement of men who for better or for worse, did the job of serving their country. I am an outspoken pro-choice advocate who favors gay marriage and universal health care. However, I remember there are men who died for my freedom of speech that I hold so dear and to spout out my opinions as I do without even being solicited. As I pen this entry, I remember these men died for my right to have this here blog. These men did not die in vain but rather with the hope the world could be a better place for the rest of us.
In celebrating Veterans Day we also celebrate our history for better or for worse, how far we have come and where we have yet to improve. In closing I say let gays serve in the military if they want. They are able bodied citizens who love their country and God. Just because someone is gay does not mean they wear a boa when they fire a rifle. Take both Alexander the Great and Richard the Lion Heart, both were as gay as the day is long and both were winning generals who won battles everywhere they went intimidating opponents. Remember that the next time you don’t want them to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
With that being said, if you can take a few minutes to think of the men and women who served our country or continue to do so. They have done more for you than this blog could ever detail.
With that Happy Veterans Day. Love April