One of the great American heroes was not a veteran. There’s a song about him that was popular during his time. I’ve sung it often to my kids when they were young. My daughter, a lawyer in New York City, when out with her friends having a beer or two after a hard day’s work can still entertain them with its words that she learned as a young girl, along with some other ditties I sang to her that I learned in the bars of Scollay Square during my college days (that I cleaned up a bit) or while in the Marines.
I mention all that because I’m going to paraphrase some of the words from that song for this post on the veterans. I want you to “take your hats off to [the] lucky plucky [veterans], the saviors of the USA.” Truly, they are.
We’ve all read about the so-called “greatest generation” which are the veterans of WWII. But I suggest that is a misused term. The guys (and gals) who fought in that war against the Nazis and Japanese sure were brave and all that good soldiers should be but that was not unique to that generation. How about the Yankee Division “that made a decision to mop up Germany” in the War to End All Wars and other WWI troops?
Equal to the WWI and WWII veterans were the many who went off and slogged through the rice paddies of Vietnam in a war that lasted much longer than the two great wars before it; they went off shortly after others had come back from heroically pushing back the onslaught of Chinese troops who poured over the border into Korea. Speaking of that, what about guys like Ted Williams one of the greatest baseball players of all times: he fought in both World War II and Korea. We must include all those men who went off and the many Clara Barton working behind the lines assisted them on the bloody fields of Antietam and Gettysburg, both places where Alonzo Cushing fought, or even further back to the Revolutionary War soldiers to whom we owe the greatest debt for having fought for an inchoate idea of America; it is that idea put into substance that brings us together as a nation today.
The veterans of those wars were different from those who would follow after 1973. Although many who served prior to that time joined willingly, there was a consequence for failure to do so. That was the draft. Those in my time knew you were going one way or another so many picked the road we would take rather than having it dictated to us. (Some did take the road to Canada.)
With the end of the draft our nation turned to a volunteer force. Now to me, those who join to fight without having a stick held over their heads, they too not only must be considered equal to but perhaps a tad higher than those who came before.
There was in truth no greatest generation of soldiers. Due to our nation’s unique makeup each generation in America from its founding has been able to produce time after time, war after war, warriors who can meet and defeat our enemies. For that we are truly fortunate to see that this spirit and capability lives on among some of us. Whether it does in the great many remains to be seen.
So I urge you, even though only a few of us wear caubeens these days to put it on, or toss on a hat or a baseball cap or even, as I recall what the young Catholic girls used to wear in place of a hat when it was mandatory for a woman to cover her head when entering a Catholic church, a Kleenex tissue. Then lift if off your head and hold is up for a moment and let your thoughts of thanks fall upon all those living and dead who responded to call and had the willingness to wear the nation’s uniform. Each and every one of them is part of the greatest generation and it is each of those generations that has given us the opportunity to live in the home of the free and the brave.
(Before 1953 we would say: “the home of the free and the Braves.”)