So today was an interesting culmination of events that got me thinking. First, there was this article. In her first statement to the press since the death of her son, Adele Hoe makes a poignant statement about our society. Her only wish is that society would do more to honor our troops when they are alive.
During the Vietnam war American society made it shameful to serve in the military. The American Military has never fully recovered from that. Even today, many military service members are embarrassed or ashamed to wear their uniforms in public. Yet, the sacrifices that these men and women and their families make warrants special recognition in society. American service members should wear their uniforms in public and often. The American public needs to see the face of the military.
Do not confuse the use of the military with those who serve in it. I am one of the louder voices saying the United States had no business in Vietnam. But that does not discredit the service and heroism of those who served in that war. Their service to this great nation is no less than the men and women who served in World War II. World War II was a more noble cause and a more significant struggle but that had little to do with the men and women of the era. How the military of the United States is used is not and cannot be the choice of those who serve in it. How the military is used is the responsibility of the American people through the office of the politicians that they elect. The American public should not allow anyone in society to ridicule those who seek to serve that society in such a selfless fashion.
This evening I took my son to see The Incredibles. This movie has some interesting social commentary. It also happens to be a great movie. My son and I have seen it twice now. At any rate, there’s an interesting exchange between the son Dash and his mother. “Everyone is special,” says mom. To which Dash replies, “which is another way of saying no one is special.” During my deployment to the Gulf I received the Navy Achievement Medal. This should have been something to be proud of. This medal should signify that I did something worthy of recognition. However, everyone in the unit got a Navy Achievement Medal. This effectively reduces the value and significance of the medal I received to zero. It is a shame that in many cases we are so concerned about offending others that we refused to recognize the exceptional or, conversely, we bestow on everyone the awards and recognitions earned by only a few.
In a sense, these two concepts are part of the same problem. We have informalized our society to such an extent that we no longer value the mechanisms by which we should be marking the significant events of our lives. Military service members who wear their uniform in public today are subjected to embarrassing comments such as, “nice Halloween costume.” Or such disrespectful questions as, “why are you wearing that?” It is an honor to wear the uniform. Society should respect the commitment and sacrifice required to earn the privilege of wearing the uniform of America’s armed forces.
Formal ceremonies marking the departure and return of military units are dismissed as pomp and circumstance and then done away with in the name of frugality. The US Military today claims it cannot afford to dispatch an honor guard to render proper military honors for the funerals of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. These ceremonies mark the significant moments of our lives. They serve to make memorable moments in our passing that should be remembered. Departure to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom is an event that should be remembered. The passing of an American veteran is an event that should be remembered.
Part of this informalization of American society includes an irreverence for paying respect. We no longer find it necessary to respect the elders of our society. Yet the elderly represent and in fact are the wisdom of today. American society is still so infatuated with youth that it has forgotten the value and importance of wisdom. We no longer find it necessary to respect those who have dedicated their lives to the service of community and society. Only since September 11, 2001 has it again become fashionable to respect Firefighters and Police Officers. And that respect appears to be temporary and waning as September 11 fades in our collective memory. The War On Terror and its battles in Afghanistan and Iraq have brought to the fore the sacrifice made by America’s military and their families but American society still falls short in its recognition of American service members outside of their deaths.
On a few occasions when I have been out in public in my uniform I have had people come up to me and say thank you. It means a lot to me. I wish that my community had done more to rally around my wife and children while I was serving in OIF. I wish that people would also thank my wife. I think that quite possibly hers is the greater sacrifice. I would like to see our service members remembered in prayer from the pulpit more often. Our church finally has a board up to recognize members of the congregation that are serving in the military. I wish that the church would call attention, by name, to the service members returning home on leave, from training or from operations. I wish that people would not miss or pass by the opportunities to say thank you to those who make the commitment and sacrifice to serve our society.
Anyone see the movie Ladder 49. Now that was a funeral worthy of a man who had given his life to and for his community. But the question remains, why do our heros have to die before any part of our society is willing to step forward and recognize them?