Today is Veterans Day, when everyone posts on Facebook pictures of their family’s veterans and all the commenters thank them for their service.
I posted a picture of my dad, Frank, when he was in the army in World War II. (Or as Donald Trump might say, “World War eye eye.”) I mentioned that he was one of six brothers in the war and that all were deployed overseas at the same time.
If Dad were alive and knew anything about Facebook, he might have told me to remove the post. He was not a fan of the army. In fact, he had a dim view of the military and its demands on the national budget. (I posted it mostly because Veteran’s Day is also the anniversary of Dad’s death.)
He did not enlist. In 1942 four of his brothers were already in the service. He, being the oldest, was still at home with his brother Wilbur, or Jack as he was commonly called. My dad had worked from the time he was about 12, as his dad was laid off at age 50 and never worked again, though I’m not sure if that was laziness or a medical issue. Jack worked, too, of course.
Then Jack received his draft notice. He and my dad went to the recruiting office. Dad told them that Jack made more money than he did, so if they wouldn’t mind, would they take him and let Jack stay home to provide for his parents? They said sure. Dad joined, and then a few weeks later, they drafted Jack.
That’s only one reason my dad didn’t like the armed services. Even though he actually saw little action, he didn’t like the atmosphere and wasn’t a big rah-rah guy who flew the flag when it wasn’t needed.
He saw most gestures of patriotism as phony. His view of the military degraded further with the Vietnam War, when he thought, as turned out to be true, that the military brass was lying to the American people about how the war was going. He didn’t dislike the boys on the front lines; he felt for them. And he certainly had nothing against veterans, nor resented their benefits. In fact, to his utter amazement, he received a benefit of about $20 a month for the rest of his life because he was partially disabled: He had acne that may have gotten worse in the army. It reinforced to him the idea that the military didn’t understand priorities and didn’t know what it was doing. It was part of its wasteful spending.
When I was a kid 60 years ago, people didn’t make a big deal of veterans. They all served together—taking six kids from one family wasn’t common but many families had more than one sibling serving. They did it because they had to. That was my dad’s take. Sure, Germany was an existential threat, but he probably would have avoided the service if he could. And veterans, they still put their pants on one leg at a time like most folks.
As a backlash to the misguided disrespect that soldiers received during the Vietnam War, everyone now wants to thank veterans for their service. He probably wouldn’t have a problem with that. But I’m sure he would have bristled at the 7th inning stretches in baseball that now often include a special salute to a small number of veteran guests of honor. Hell, he could never understand why we sing the national anthem before a baseball game.
(People think it was done since Francis Scott Key wrote in it 1814—even before baseball was invented. Maybe it was sung at archery matches. In fact, the Star Spangled Banner tradition at baseball games started in 1918 when the band spontaneously played it, according to one source, as the country was still at war. It didn’t become the national anthem until 1931. And it wasn’t played while football players were on the field until 2009.)
And I’m quite sure he would have railed against the idea that we should take care of our wounded veterans, but it’s all right if poor folks die because they can’t afford to pay for healthcare.
My dad would likely remind us that unlike the veterans of his day, there’s a dwindling number who were conscripted. Most active duty service men and women today volunteered to be in the service. And maybe he would say that a good number of veterans join not because they want to fight to the death in defense of their country. They need a job. And one that gives them three squares a day and a roof over their head is a lot better than they might otherwise have in today’s economy.
We’re all in this together, he might say. That’s great if you choose to join the military. When you’re there, you rarely have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. He’ll gladly pay for that. And he’ll pay for your benefits. But not to the exclusion of the health and welfare needs of all our citizens.
Maybe he would say that. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.