Though it is now officially known as Veteran’s Day, I prefer to call this day of remembrance by its original and much more poetic title: Armistice Day.
This morning I woke, made some good, strong coffee and sat in front of the television with my husband, both of us too young to have ever feared a draft. We watched C-SPAN while an endless parade of senators (all Republicans, for reasons I still haven’t figured out) made four-minute speeches honoring the veterans and war dead of this, arguably the greatest nation on earth.
They stepped solemnly to the podium — many wearing red poppies of remembrance on the lapels of their dark, finely tailored suits — and spoke with great awe and reverence of the veterans of World Wars I and II. They spoke with gratitude and respect of the veterans of the conflict in Korea. And they spoke with a sense of renewed pride and profound regret regarding the treatment of the veterans of the war in Vietnam.
The manner in which we sent thousands of young men to the jungles of southeast Asia to fight and die for supposed American ideals — and then mercilessly turned our backs on them when (or if) they returned home — is perhaps one of the most shameful chapters in this country’s history. We offered them nothing, except our contempt. We broke first their bodies, then their minds, and finally, their spirits. Today is a day set aside to perhaps try and begin to reverse and heal the unspeakable damage that has been done. As has been said and written before — by writers far greater than I — there is a time for every purpose under heaven.
Today is a time for embracing.
And, of course, the fact that our country is currently at war was perhaps the main focus of most of their speeches, many of them quite eloquent and moving. One after the other, they invoked the spirit of the current generation of brave, young Americans stationed in the Middle East — who are courageously defending the security and honor of our people. These elder statesman spoke graciously of sacrifices made and liberty upheld. They told of a new generation of Americans who — without a moment’s hesitation — are following in the honorable footsteps of their military forebearers by answering the call of a grateful nation. These modern-day warriors of freedom were offered up the highest honors and accolades that these men of great power could muster — they were called heroes.
However moving as it all may have been, while I listened to genteel men like Senator John Warner from Virginia waxing poetic about patriotism and duty and honor and the sacrifices being made by these young men and women…all I could think about was one thing — and it had nothing at all to do with freedom, liberty, or a war being waged a half a world away.
My one thought was this:
Visit the homes, apartments, and base housing of many of those soldiers that you spoke of today, Senator Warner — those who are stationed over there right now, risking their lives for us all — and open their refrigerators, cabinets, cupboards, and pantries…and tell me what you see.
Or, rather, tell me what you don’t see.
Carefully examine the check registers, bank statements, pocketbooks, piggybanks, and wallets of their remaining spouses. Grasp the reality of the concept “hand to mouth” — and sometimes not even that. See — perhaps for the very first time — what food stamps look like.
Note the year and condition of their vehicles.
Look at the shoes on their children’s feet, Sir. Feel the chill in the air of their playrooms, bedrooms, and nurseries. As you and the current administration surely know firsthand, oil can be quite costly — in more ways than one.
Though it is far from the glamour and triumph of military victory, for most, this is where the truest sacrifice lies. Not on some bloody, glorious battlefield in Iraq — but back at home…in a simple bottle of twice-cut, watered-down baby formula being fed to an infant son by a young mother who is doing her best to keep the home fires burning…while desperately trying to make ends meet on an enlisted man’s salary that is certainly at or below poverty-level.
Let us talk about courage in the face of insurmountable odds, shall we?
You say you sincerely desire to honor our nation’s courageous armed forces on this Armistice Day 2003, Senator Warner? Then start by better providing for the families that they have left behind. Introduce bold and insistent legislation that will immediately ensure that while these men and women are away risking their lives to provide us with security and to preserve the freedoms we hold so dear — that there is generous providence and preservation of what they hold so dear, too. See to it that while they are gone — fighting the Good Fight for us all — that we are here, fighting it for them, as well. Failing to do so is a profound betrayal of everything that they are supposedly fighting for.
As a truly grateful nation…we should now answer their call — and without a moment’s hesitation.
They should never have needed to ask in the first place, Sir.
Do it now.
— Muffy Bolding
(published on hipmama.com, 11 November, 2003)
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