Every soldier, sailor and marine gets one for serving during a time of war. It's as generic a medal as you can wear. It's so generic, even I have one.
To me, this is the perfect symbol of the citizen soldier, the guy who goes when he's called, the guy who would rather be doing anything else, but steps up when his country needs him. And I'm afraid that guy is going the way of the honest man.
We're celebrating Veterans Day today, even though it was yesterday, the 11th day of the 11th month, the day in 1918 that the insanity we call World War I ended. Veteran's Day. The day when old soldiers squeeze into old uniforms and accept thanks from people who notice.
Recently, a co-worker's son was killed in Iraq. She and I had a long talk and she said something that started me thinking. She said that people who don't come from a military background don't understand why men and women enlist and serve proudly. Having come from a military family, I had never really thought about that.
This is a particularly tough time. The nation is divided on this war and this president and our troops are in an ugly spot doing dangerous work, wondering if the country is behind them. On this Veteran's Day, it's important to ask the question, can you be for the troops and against this war? This is how Michael Jernigan answered it in yesterday's NYT:
"To people who support the troops but not the war — that is your right. But remember there was someone holding a gun who fought so you can have that right. It is tough for me to smile when someone tells me that they support our troops but feel the war is wrong. I stand there and smile and say, “Thank you for sharing your feelings.” I think people say that because it makes them feel better to say it, but they really mean, “Thank you for your service, but really you are an idiot for following that insane president.” It makes me feel belittled. I do not want to hear it. I was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps and I do not make policy so save it for your congressman."
Why does he think that? Why does he think that those of us who have served and are serving now may be against the war and still support him and his comrades? I think it goes back to what my co-worker said. In this time of a volunteer army, there is a growing chasm between those who feel that the life of a soldier is a calling and those who don't understand why anyone would choose that life voluntarily. They say it's because there are no jobs for him, or he's been denied other opportunities and they never understand that many men and women like the military life. It is their life.
But as the chasm grows, the military people don't understand civilians, either. I once told a young officer that my daughter was a singer living in New York. He was sorry and sympathetic. "We had a cousin like that," he said.
He didn't get it. He didn't know that along with a military tradition, we also had a tradition of entertainers that went back generations. Writers, singers, performers. I told him that the next time he heard a great song on the radio or saw a good movie, he should thank all those young people who sacrificed a secure life to pursue a dream every bit as honored, in our family, as military service.
He didn't get it. Just as members of my co-worker's family didn't understand her son's dream of being a soldier, this soldier couldn't grasp why anyone would dream of being a performer.
Those people are crazy!
And as we continue with our volunteer military, and fewer civilians are touched by that life, the less we'll understand one another. And that is a dangerous thing.
The more Michael Jernigans we have who don't believe we can honor the soldier and not buy into his mission, and the more civilians we have who have no understanding of how anyone could give their lives in service to their country, the more we'll be forever divided.
Something to think about.
But maybe for another day. Today, I salute all those who wore that gold and scarlett ribbon. Whether you were a cook or a clerk, a transportation officer, supply sergeant or a grunt. You didn't let others take your place on the line. For that, regardless of politics, you will always be my brother.