Reflections on Veterans Day
by Mark Franke
As I reflected on Veterans Day this year, several different emotions were evoked. So in no particular order, here they are. But first a disclaimer.
My father was a veteran of D-Day and that qualifies me to be a Son of the American Legion, an organization I have proudly served at the local, regional, state and national levels. The American Legion exists to support veterans just as one would expect but also to teach and to preserve the great principles on which our nation was founded. Justice, freedom and democracy are prominent in the organization’s preamble. In fact I am writing this at my local Legion post, a location which serves as a muse for much of my perspective on our state of affairs.
My first point of reflection is the different attitude Americans have about current and former service members. I recall how my friends were treated when they returned from Vietnam. Recently I was reminded of this while listening to internet radio on a cross-country drive for a family reunion. The host of the show was playing music from the 1970’s and he told a story about a uniformed serviceman who got into a New York City cab. He told the cabbie that he had just returned from Vietnam, to which the cabbie responded, “Who cares?” That was more polite than some of the things these men heard.
Things are different now but perhaps they are changing again, and not for the better. The military is doing it to itself, or at least the military leadership is. There have been way too many news reports of military brass imposing woke ideology on those under their command. I am not the only one who wonders if the Pentagon is more concerned about being seen as politically correct than defending our nation.
The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan is revealing. I mention this in the context of an open letter signed by approximately 180 retired flag officers (generals and admirals) demanding that the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff resign over the Afghan withdrawal. Their point is that either these top officials agreed with this inept plan and are therefore incompetent, or they opposed it yet it was implemented by President Biden over their objections, in which case they should resign as a matter of principle. (In the interest of full disclosure, one of the signers is a close friend — a friend whose judgment I trust implicitly.)
While I am on a negative trend, one more question has occupied my overtaxed mind. Another friend told me he doesn’t know what a veteran is anymore. Without going into his thought process, one that has challenged me on more than one occasion, I think I see his point. A veteran used to be someone who fought in a war. Our last declared war was World War II but one can argue that America has been in a state of war ever since 1945. Congress apparently agreed and so opened up membership eligibility in the American Legion to all who served from 1945 to the present. Have we been at war continually since 1945? The world is certainly not safer today than it was back then so I would say yes.
Enough of the melancholy. Nov. 11 is an important day, and not just because it is the date that an armistice was signed to end World War I. One interesting coincidence is that Nov. 11 was observed as St. Martin’s day in the medieval church. Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and early convert to Christianity. Upon coming across a naked beggar, Martin cut his military cloak and gave half to the beggar. Another friend — and I am truly blessed to have so many intelligent friends — explained that the Latin word for a military cloak was capellanus, which is the etymological root for our word chaplain. I know several current and former military chaplains, all of whom serve in the spirit of St. Martin. Is all this simply coincidence? Perhaps.
I want to end this reflection of Veterans Day on a high note. I am a volunteer at a Lutheran elementary school and the first-grade teacher suggested I should look at Veterans Day through the eyes of her six-year-olds. Here are a few of their statements about the importance of this day:
“We celebrate veterans who serve for us in the military.”
“[It’s] a day to remember and thank our veterans.”
“[It’s] a day to show how we love our veterans.”
“It’s a special day and you will see lots of flags.”
“It means we celebrate our soldiers and some went to war.”
We adults make things way too complicated. I plead guilty to that charge. I think I should spend more time with those first graders.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.