Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Veteran's Salute

By Mark W. Danielson

Many conflicts have occurred during my lifetime. The Korean War concluded when I was born, and the Vietnam War ended just before I received my Air Force commission. Many more conflicts arose during my military service, and since my retirement, we have become involved in fighting two desert wars. While I was fortunate to have never fired a shot in harm’s way, many of my peers weren’t so lucky. So to those who have ever served in a combat zone, I salute you, and am grateful that America is now saluting you, too.

Until now, many of our veterans missed out on their nation’s respect. After World War II, Americans weren’t prepared for another Asian war, thus they showed little favor for its returning Korean War veterans. These soldiers fought under extremely harsh conditions, yet received little acknowledgement for their sacrifices. By the time we got involved in Vietnam, America’s youngest generation became adamantly opposed to war. Their opposition divided our country, and in many cases we saw extremists resorting to the very violence that they despised. I’m sorry to say that many from my generation spat on our returning Vietnam veterans. What made it worse was many of these anti-war protesters were veterans themselves; young kids who had been drafted and saw their teammates blown away and mangled. They were angry, and fought diligently to put an end the draft and the war. Ironically, their right to protest was actually a gift from those veterans who preceded them. America’s involvement in Vietnam was such an emotional issue that it took decades before our Vietnam Veterans were recognized for their service to their country.

Thankfully, the Vietnam War did abolish the draft, and modern weapons have made it possible to get by with a strictly volunteer force. But these volunteers are spread thin, and most are seeing multiple desert tours. Today, our National Guard and Reserve forces are in constant rotation, filling the gaps for our active duty forces. But the one positive aspect is Americans are now embracing their veterans. One Dallas man even formed a welcoming group to greet every returning desert war veteran as they pass through the DFW airport. Today, veterans receive honorable mentions at ball games, rodeos, and in Presidential addresses, and rightfully so. Today’s returning veterans can hold their heads high rather than duck in shame. It’s remarkable that this dramatic turnaround came within one or two generations. Our veterans should always receive positive recognition.

Two million people filled the spaces between our war memorials on the Capitol Mall during President Obama’s inauguration. Indeed, the Capitol Mall is sacred, but as significant as our national memorials are, one state chose to go beyond that to recognize its own veterans, and that state happens to be Indiana.

Indiana’s Civil War Memorial was their first monument to be constructed. Located in Indianapolis, this centerpiece incorporates a basement museum that explains their state’s involvement in the war. After World War I, the War Memorial was constructed two blocks away and General Pershing was there to lay its corner stone. (See photo.) This amazing building boasts a sanctuary, auditorium, museum, and numerous multi-purpose rooms. The sanctuary stairs are lined with the names of every Indiana veteran, with specific notations to those who died.

Sadly, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t achieve its goal, for less than two decades later the foundation for World War II was laid. To help end the war in the Pacific, the USS Indianapolis secretly carried the atomic bomb to the B-29 base in Guam. On its return voyage, it was sunk by a Japanese submarine; its resulting survivor tales mentioned in the movie, “Jaws”. Appropriately, the USS Indianapolis’ plight became part of the War Memorial, along with displays of the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. Over the years, Indiana has expanded its veterans’ mall to include memorials for all of America’s wars. Appropriately, the national headquarters for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion cap the mall’s end. But Indiana’s tribute doesn’t stop there. On Indianapolis’ river walk, a talking Medal of Honor memorial tells the story of each of its awardees, and further down, there is another tribute to the USS Indianapolis. No other state honors its veterans like Indiana.

Regardless of how or why our veterans served, it’s critical that we acknowledge them for defending our freedom. So the next time you see someone wearing a uniform, or perhaps a hat or coat that reflects prior military affiliation, take a moment to shake their hand and thank them for their service. Your reward will be a heartfelt smile, and perhaps a story worth listening to.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Mark,and you look handsome as all get out in your "Top Gun" photo. (-:

Beth Terrell said...

Thank you for this tribute to our veterans, Mark. And thank you for your service.

Chester Campbell said...

I have never understood why Vietnam veterans were looked down on. There were things like the My Lai Massacre that tainted the military, but those incidents involved only small groups of soldiers. There were hundreds of thousands who did the jobs they were assigned to do at great sacrifice, and many lost their lives. I was in World War II and the Korean War, and I never felt any discrimination. Happily as you say, Mark, today our sevicemen and women are getting the recognition they deserve.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Amen, Mark. I was editor-in-chief of my college newspaper during the early stages of the Vietnam War and wrote many editorials about our brave men dying in action. Needless to say, I was critcized for my views. I later had the Lemoore Naval Air Station beat (largest of it's kind in the nation) and interviewed pilots coming and going to Nam. It was a heart wrenching job.

Mark W. Danielson said...

The Vietnam War was perhaps our most misunderstood conflict. Many of our servicemen questioning this war helped fuel the anti-war fire at home. The movies "Forrest Gump" and most recently, "Across the Universe" did an excellent job of portraying life during that turbulent time. While I'll withold my personal views on our current situation, I am glad that our veterans are receiving the support they deserve.