Veterans Day 2020 is, without question, the saddest memorial to our fallen heroes than I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.
At the moment, all Americans, no matter their passion or prejudice, stand amidst the rubble of what was once a proud nation. We look around, finding the landscape littered with freedoms being crushed, the rule of law being shattered, and the concept of “Home of the Brave and Land of the Free” nothing more than hollow words.
Certainly, I will be assailed by many for knee-jerking or delivering mere hyperbole for the sake of readership or clicks. Far from it, actually. My long career as a journalist has already taught me that the headline is not nearly as provocative as it should be, where perhaps I would garner more attention if it were to read “PRESIDENT TRUMP DRIVES AMERICA TO THE POINT OF DISSOLUTION!”.
Not my style, and not what we need at the moment.
What we are in desperate need of is rational thinking and common sense. As my Grandfather noted to me what now seems eons ago, “Common sense is not nearly as common as you might think, Edward”. The rotund little man from Hungary could not have been more to the point, and been so prescient.
On this Veteran’s Day, we think about the willing sacrifice so many have given America over the years. For some, it was nothing more than a desk job, pushing endless reams of paper toward destinations unknown. For others, standing what seemed to be little more than a useless post in a far flung facility with little or not strategic value. As that respected and brilliant legal practitioner Judge Elihu Smails intoned one day while enjoying a pleasing round of golf, “Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too”. It’s worth noting the young man he said it to, Danny Noonan, took those words as a challenge and later made something of himself as a sitting judge in his own right, with an affinity for those cases involving mentally challenged greenskeepers sent into fits of rage dealing with large rodents.
Veterans Day is here to honor those without whom America would not exist in her current form. It’s indeed a stretch to say we would not be considered a leader in the free world, but things would be not quite the same. Those men and women gave their lives, and in many cases pieces of their own bodies, to eradicate slavery in this country and stop the bloodshed initiated by the desire of one faction to own and brutalize fellow human beings. They slogged across the barren fields and swamplands of a decimated Europe to beat back a foe that had designs on not merely a regional conquest, but that of reaching dictatorial hands across the Atlantic to infect and perhaps even destroy America. Our soldiers did this not 0nce, but twice.
There are a precious few of those veterans still alive today, most seeing an America thru hazy vision, perhaps hoping that optical cloud is hiding the despicable reality moving forward. They fought, were mentally and physically decimated, and in many cases perished to preserve what in essence started as a dream, but is now a horrible nightmare. Near then end of their lives, I will wager there are plenty who wonder if, in the end, it was all worth it as they survey what America has become.
I communicated recently with several of our military veterans. One from WW2, another from Vietnam, one from Afghanistan, another that has yet to be caught up in a maelstrom of war, thankful to be serving in a time when they fear more an electronic enemy than one bent on raining destruction down on America and the world from the heavens above.
When the discussion turned to where America is at the moment, the America they fought for and are charged with defending, the answers were emotional, sometimes gut wrenching, in every instance revealing.
From the gentleman who knows every inch of a Europe he walked across, hitched a ride on tanks to navigate, watched as friends died in a mix of blood and mud: “This is not the America I fought for, and I have no idea where she went or if she is willing to be saved”.
From the decorated hero of the most senseless conflict in our history, where young men were used as cannon fodder for political policies bent on doing more than trying to show the world how engorged America could be in the need for nation building power. One who eagerly joined to serve his country, and by the time he stepped off a helicopter in the jungles of North Vietnam knew he would die for nothing: “We were led by fools and criminals back then, and we are led by even greater fools and criminals now”.
From the soft spoken young man who was turned into an aging killer by his country, sent to the sands of a Middle Eastern nation where a seething hate for America grew every day as we bungled our way into yet another disastrous conflict with no real motivation or end game in sight: “This is what I fucking lost a leg for? To follow people of zero honor that view America as their personal reality show?”
From the 4th generation soldier who never once in her young life wavered in a desire to protect and serve the country that had provided safe haven for members of her family, given shelter to those who believed in that “shining beacon of light” story, and who now watches as superiors are vexed and often paralyzed by a command structure that cannot fathom the level of lies and misinformation they are handed daily from the ranks above: “The level of agreeable capitulation with the policies of a megalomaniac and his followers has turned this into a country I neither seek to live in nor even defend. We are just too far gone”.
Are we? It’s worth considering. America is on this Veterans Day a nation that has been shredded from within. We are a collection of people who seek to repair damage that started well more than 4 years ago, and shows little or no signs of standing again on honorable feet. America is now the running global joke, a showcase of political pratfalls fashioning a legacy no right-minded individual would want to remember or be associated with.
If you take all the years, all the sacrifices, all the blood and tears shed by our veterans from the moment brave men and women sought to create a nation from what was then a barren landscape, and bring it forward to this exact moment in time, only one conclusion can be drawn.
We have wasted, and are wasting, the efforts of those simple heroes. Those medals we pin on their chests are tin-plated toys with no meaning or soul behind them. We are an America that has neither earned, nor deserves, the mantle of truly fighting for and standing for freedom.
We are culturally, socially, politically adrift.
Can we be saved? Of course. That’s a foolish question. History is filled with those nations and dreams that were crushed under their own weight of arrogance and hubris, yet rose again because of those who decided they would fight to the bitter end. Those who understood there would be figurative and actual blows readily accepted. Those who understand that freedom is never free, but instead has to be paid for with every inch moving forward, sometimes at the cost of our reputation, our livelihood, and even our lives.
Exactly like those who wear uniforms and understand the same principles.
There is no contract for us to sign, no induction letter to be received. We’re not being handed a uniform, and our basic training is life itself. There is no drill sergeant to mold us into what America desires as a protector. There is only we, the people, and the charge of not just tossing about catch phrases such as “making America great again”, but first learning and accepting what we must do in order to achieve that greatness.
Work as a team. Take the battlefield with those who started as strangers, perhaps someone for whatever reason we took a dislike to, and work tirelessly to forge a team of disparate beliefs and multiple faiths to strive for that one goal.
Conquer the enemy that seeks to destroy America. This time, an enemy from within. One that twists and besmirches what the country should be standing for, all in the name of their own ill-gotten gain.
On Veterans Day 2020, honor those who gave some and those who gave all by stepping into their boots for a few moments. Put aside personal differences and biases. Pick up the weapons of intelligence and reason. Load them with a passion to overcome those that seek to destroy the America that should be.
Prove we are not too far gone.