First, I must confess to being an unabashed Conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan. I have been, since High School. And for those counting, that’s at least thirty-seven years. In fact, I invited President Ford to my High School graduation (I still have his “thank you” around here somewhere). And I have always loved the military. Understand, as a career police officer, I have known guys that love to hang around cops, are dazzled by cops, gravitate to cops. So I’m not like that with those that serve, or have served in the military. But I respect them and honor them (and their families) for their service.
My Father was drafted into the Army in WWII. He never talked about his time in the Army much, but every now and then I could get him to tell a story or two. I know he was in France. I know he was tapped to go to Officer Candidate School but turned them down. I know he was a foot soldier under Patton’s crew for a while. I know he shot at people, and (I presume) was shot at in return. One of the things he was happiest about regarding his time in Europe was that he could honestly say that “he didn’t know if he ever killed anybody,” which, if one reads between the lines, meant he was in some engagements somewhere.
I remember as a kid finding the few mementos he kept; some collar brass, a compass in a leather pouch, shoulder stripes. I played with them endlessly, imagining myself to be in the middle of “the action.” Of course, like most American kids, I had no idea what that meant. I only knew that at the time, I thought my Dad, my uncle, and everyone else that I knew that had served was a hero (of course, that has not changed. Ever.).
I had always wondered what medals Pop might be due, but it wasn’t until after he died that I actually looked into it. There was an address that I found that would supply those medals earned and awarded, so I sent the required information, and promptly forgot that I had done so. A few weeks later, a rather stuffed package came in the mail from an address that I didn’t recognize. Upon opening it, I discovered that it contained my Father’s medals from World War II. He had earned several, including Victory in Europe, Occupation of Germany, things like that. However, he also had gotten a Purple Heart (he would have said that was for trench foot). The largest I saved for last. I opened it up, and my heart nearly broke. My Father, as a rather low-ranking Sergeant drafted as a farm boy into the Army, had been awarded the Bronze Star. Included with the medals was the paperwork citing what he had done to earn the medals. However, there was a problem.
Many years ago, there was a rather extensive fire in a government warehouse that destroyed many, many of the records of military men and women. My father’s was one of those. The only thing salvaged of my father’s records was the page listing what he was due, with nothing saying what he had done to earn them. Even the page with the medals awarded him was scorched and incomplete. So, with Dad dead and buried, there is little I know to do to find out what he had done to be awarded the Bronze Star. But I was right. My Dad is a hero.
So I have always loved and respected the military. I graduated High School in 1975, and close to my graduation date I called the Army recruiting office to see what I needed to do to enlist. I remember my heart was pounding, and I was as nervous as I could possibly be. At that time, I didn’t immerse myself in politics as I do now, and was only partly aware of stuff, although I think I knew more of what was going on than I might think I did. Anyhow, Viet Nam was pretty much the defining event of my generation, and that was in my mind as I called the recruiter. And I got the oddest response I have ever had, and certainly not the one I expected. He told me, “Don’t bother, kid. The conflict’s over.” And that was that. I still looked into enlisting, in order to pay for college, but my folks insisted that they would pay for school. As I had posted earlier, it wasn’t until years later that I learned that when I was adopted, my parents promised that they would get me an education, a promise that they were determined to keep, and did. Even so, I went to Behrend College of Penn State and was one of the founding members of the ROTC program on Behrend Campus, learning under Captain Small (later promoted to Major), and Sergeant King.
These were two very interesting guys. Captain Small was one of the first Cobra pilots in Viet Nam. He was a good commander of the ROTC unit, good sense of humor, definitely a leader. He had an odd habit, though. He chewed on his hands. He would kind of nip them all over until there were small scabs all over both hands; they would heal up, look great, and then a while later he would do it all over again. I figured it was due to his time “in country,” but never asked about it.
Sgt. King was my hero. I have said that he is the second heroic man who influenced me in my life, my Dad being the first. Sgt. Don King was a large man, quiet, and a Green Beret. He had been field grade Captain in Viet Nam, but due to the fact that he didn’t have a college degree was rolled back to Sergeant after the conflict. I learned a lot from that man. As far as I know, he retired to his home state of Texas, and if anyone knows of his whereabouts, I would appreciate connection, address, anything. When I finished up at Behrend, and transferred to main campus, I opted to not continue the ROTC program there, and not enlist upon graduation. One of the hardest things I have ever heard in my life was the words that Sgt. King said when he learned that I would not continue. He looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “I’m disappointed in you, Clark. You would have made a fine officer.”
But even though I did not serve, I have honored the military and those that have served, throughout my entire life. And this is where I get “political.” Politically, if you are liberal and get irritated easily, I would not be hurt if you stop reading here.
See, I just don’t understand how one can serve in the military and still lean liberal. I hear liberals voicing honor to the military and my first inclination is to get irked. Ok, I know many liberals that honestly appreciate the military, and are sincere in their voicing that appreciation. My problem comes from having lived through the 60’s. I remember how the military, and those that served then, were treated. I remember seeing troops getting spat upon and called “baby killers” in public. I remember the shame that was heaped on them, and that at a time that, as always, I loved the military. From my perspective, the “traditional” liberal attitude is one of contempt for the military, including the Clinton years in the Presidency, when a General, upon saying good morning to one of the Clintons’ top staffers, was told, “We don’t talk to uniforms.” The attitude of liberals may have changed to the point that younger liberals honestly see no inconsistency between being politically liberal and appreciating the military. As I said, my perspective has been shaped by the 60’s, which by the way, I hated when I was in ’em. And I simply do not believe liberals of that generation, say anyone older than 40 or 45, when they say that they like, love, or simply appreciate the military.
I seem to recall that during the Presidential election in which George W. Bush beat Gore, that the military vote was suppressed. I didn’t hear howls of protest from the left about that, and if the military vote had been properly counted (as I recall that it was not), there would have been no doubt of the outcome. Same with the current Presidential election. Oh, I hear screaming from the left about this group’s vote being “disenfranchised,” or that group’s vote being suppressed, but the military? Not a word. Personal opinion? Theirs is the only vote that should be taken early. If you’re not in the military and can’t vote at the appointed time, on the appointed day, too bad, so sad. There are absentee ballots for those with legitimate reasons for not getting there on time so use them! If you forget, if you don’t have a legitimate reason to cast an absentee ballot, forget it. You don’t vote. In fact, voting is a constitutional right, I understand. But I think it is a right that is also a privilege, and if you don’t show a certain respect for that right and privilege, then I would have no issue with denying that vote. Liberal or Conservative, there is no reason that one should not understand the basics of our system. I would personally institute a test that one must pass prior to voting. The test would consist of something like the following questions: first, what is our type of government? The answer would be Democracy, Representative Republic, something like that. Second, what are the two major political parties with candidates running for office (Democrat and Republican). Third, define the difference between Capitalism and Socialism. Fourth, what are the names of the Democrat and Republican Presidential nominees and their running mates. Simple. And if you don’t pass, you don’t vote.
Anyway, back to the military.
I read a Robert Heinlein story once in which the only eligible voters in that society were currently in the military or veterans of the military. I was intrigued by that concept, and I would almost (emphasis on almost) support giving up the right to vote under that condition. I would probably add police officers, fire fighters, nurses, and perhaps even something like the Peace Corps. My thoughts are that if you aren’t willing to serve, do you really have the right to decide the course of the country? Of course, I know the answer to that, and I support our country, the Constitution, and the intent of our Founding Fathers. Even so, it’s an intriguing concept.
And I know of liberals that have served in the military. Several I worked with on the Erie Police Department, and several that I have met along the way. But I guess I am kind of puzzled, since generally speaking, it is the more conservative political party that appreciates the military. The liberal side? Not so much. I remember John F. Kerry running against President Bush. Kerry wore his service on his sleeve, and my personal opinion is that he joined, not out of patriotism, but cynically so he could utilize his service after he got out. Even so, I appreciate his service. At least he joined. It’s what he did while in there and after that I despise, and acts as an example of what I believe is the general opinion that liberals have of the military.
I was prompted to write this blog after seeing a post on Facebook. One of my liberal friends posted an article written by one that had served in the military on why that person was voting for Obama. My friend stated that because of the author’s service, he should be taken seriously. My friend and I are in what I would call the beginning stages of friendship. We respect each other and our opinions, even though they often conflict. But I am a good judge of character, and I believe that Steve is sincere when he vocalizes support for the military. But I can judge his sincerity because I know him. It is much more difficult for me when it is someone I do not personally know, and cannot read their character enough to judge their sincerity.
So, to all in the military, to all that have served, and to all that shall serve in the future, my undying thanks. You have my appreciation, my admiration. Your political persuasion is irrelevant to this, and I thank you. As a right-winger, as an American, I applaud you, even if you are a “leftie.” Your service is admirable, and this country would not, could not be what it is without your service, and your sacrifice. May you be blessed and honored for your service. May we who are protected get it right. May you never have a moment’s time in which you are not certain that the vast majority of Americans are grateful for what you did, what you do, what you will do. May God Bless.