PRESS EDITORIAL: America’s enduring salute

World War I gave America Veterans Day, the national holiday that was born as Armistice Day to mark the end of a war so terrible President Woodrow Wilson, with misplaced faith in human decency, called it “the war to end war.”

But it was World War II that gave America its abiding reverence for veterans of wars.

It has become an inaccurate cliche to say that whenever American soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen and women go to war they are “fighting for our freedom.” In most conflicts, U.S. forces are fighting for the freedom of citizens of other countries or in pursuit of complex, often obscure political or economic goals.

World War II, though, was truly an existential conflict that could have destroyed the American democracy. The Americans who prevented that were citizen soldiers, most of them poorly trained military amateurs, thrust into battle against two of the most fearsome armies ever assembled.

In another context, the elaborate honors bestowed on them—the likes of Tom Brokaw’s unforgettable characterization, “The Greatest Generation,” and the amazing series of Honor Flights of which Ozaukee County veterans’ supporters have been such key organizers—could seem over the top. But for the veterans of World War II these laurels are, simply put, fitting.

The number of surviving veterans of that war diminishes by the day, but the country has no dearth of other veterans to accept the accolades of their fellow citizens. This nation creates them at a fast pace. By one historian’s calculation, the U.S. has been at war for 223 of its 240 years of existence.  

The American fighters in today’s conflicts are professionals, men and women who choose to join the military services and are superbly trained and equipped and, unlike the comparatively scrawny young men drafted for World War II, are in many cases buffed and formidable physical specimens of warriors. Their service is no less dangerous, however, and they deserve the respect their countrymen are eager to give.

Applauding a passing color guard in a parade or thanking a uniformed soldier in an airport for his or her service are well-meant gestures, but they are easy expenditures of the currency of patriotism. There are more meaningful ways to support veterans. One timely example would be to urge representatives in Congress to protect and adequately fund the Veterans Health Administration.

The VHA is under attack by a group of Congress members and their supporters in the executive branch, with financial support from the Koch brothers, who want to transfer care of veterans to private providers paid with funds diverted from the VHA.         

The clear intent is to downsize, cripple or do away with the government agency, much as the attacks on the Environmental Protections Agency are intended to do, even though, in spite of some well publicized problems, the VHA has been effective overall in carrying out this nation’s duty—the obligation of its government—to care for those who served in its military.

The foes of the VHA, as expected, wrap themselves in the flag and claim they’re doing it all for the vets.

Reverence for the military is so pervasive that some politicians cannot resist the temptation to bend it to their own purposes. Eloquent words on that subject were expressed during the week leading up to Veterans Day.

Some came from the widow of Pat Tillman, the NFL star who left his lucrative athletic career to serve a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, where he was killed by friendly fire. That happened 14 years ago, but Tillman, a poster warrior if there ever was one, movie star-handsome, courageous and obviously sincere in his devotion to his country, remains a compelling symbol of American patriotism.

In an essay published in the Washington Post. Marie Tillman took issue with those who invoke her late husband’s memory to condemn NFL players who protest on the sidelines, writing, “So many people want to attach a brand of blind allegiance to him and use him to argue that kneeling during the national anthem is unpatriotic.”

She believes her husband would have wanted no part of the “vitriol” aimed an NFL protestors “for expressing their beliefs.” She wrote he loved his country “so much that he would sacrifice his life to protect it, but also so much that he could challenge it.”

Service in the military does not automatically make one a patriot, but consider Major Brent Taylor, and his four deployments to war zones, and what turned out to be his parting words.

Taylor, a National Guard officer who was the mayor of North Ogden, Utah, where he lived with his wife and seven children when not serving abroad, was killed in Afghanistan. His body came home to U.S. soil on election day.

In his final Facebook post, Taylor, a Republican, wrote that he hoped “everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote . . . and whether Republicans or Democrats win, we all remember that we have more as Americans that unites us than divides us.”

The words of a patriot.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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