The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘veterans’

A MATTER OF DISHONOR

During the 1960’s as a college student, I became involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement.  My view of the war changed from one of indifference to opposition as President Johnson expanded our involvement and more of our young men were killed in action.  This opposition was directed toward our government’s policy – never to those who had enlisted or were conscripted into this war.

When I first began working to end the United States’ engagement in southeast Asia, mine was a minority opinion.  But as more of our fathers and sons and brothers fell in battle, what had started as a movement of college students spread throughout the country.  The protest marches soon included mothers and fathers and grandmothers and the American people en masse demanded the war end.  And those in Washington heard their voices and we brought our troops home.

Unfortunately, the antipathy to this war became so great that it carried over to those who had served in it.  Those who would now be called members of the ultra-left treated those returning soldiers with scorn and disrespect.  They did everything they could to shame them for exercising their consciences and doing what they viewed as their duty.  It’s amazing that a movement that for many of us was a plea for peace could be so mis-interpreted by some as a vehicle for them to exhibit anger and hatred.

I offer this backdrop to you because today the ultra-left is thoroughly in charge in Washington.  And it shouldn’t surprise any of us who lived through Vietnam that the same attitudes and tactics that they exhibited fifty years ago are still part and parcel of their playbooks today.  The goal is to enforce their philosophy on everyone and convert them to their way of thinking – irrespective of the tactics that they feel they must employ to achieve that end.  To them, the end always justifies the means.

That brings us to the question of how our CIC, President Obama and his administration is dealing with the partial government shutdown.  Are they simply trying to deal with the reduction of less than one fifth of government by efficiently trying to manage resources, or are they trying to make a statement by taking actions which seek to score political points?  I believe the latter conclusion is inescapable if a person reviews the evidence.

Perhaps the most egregious of the President’s actions are the closing of the WW II Memorial and the refusal to pay for the families of five of our soldiers and marines who died this weekend in Afghanistan to attend their return home at Dover Air Force Base.

The Administration spent limited resources to erect barriers to prevent World War II veterans who flew to Washington on honor flights to view the memorial erected in their honor.  The veterans, in their eighties and in wheelchairs broke down the barricades to this open air memorial in order to view it.  Fortunately, those in the Park Service who are responsible for maintaining the memorial did not stand in their way and, reportedly, some of those encouraged them to do so.

What must be the view by those veterans of a CIC who attempts to prevent them from viewing a memorial that was established to honor them for their service?  If you’ve seen any of the interviews with those vets, you know the answer to that question.  And they’re not part of the 37% of Americans who give the President a favorable rating.

Then there are the four servicemen and one servicewoman whose remains were brought home yesterday.  Their families, who would normally be flown at government expense to attend their return, had to have their trips funded by a private not-for-profit organization.  The excuse by DOD Secretary Hagel was that despite the fact that the Congress passed a bill to make sure that funds were available for this purpose, the law presumably was deficient the way it was written according to DOD lawyers.  Both the Secretary and the President expressed “outrage” at this situation.

Well, how outraged can the two of them really be?  Frankly, it’s hard for me to picture Sec. Hagel being outraged at anything.  He barely has a pulse – and his level of competency might be in the single digits.  Why, when he learned about his legal department’s concerns didn’t he bring this immediately to the CIC’s attention?  Or did he?  That is one of the burning questions that is, at this moment, unanswered.  Supposedly the Pentagon knew and warned this might occur four days before the partial government shutdown occurred.

The problem could have been corrected immediately by President Obama with a pen stroke on an Executive Order.  The President is familiar with this process.  He has used it 19 times to amend Obamacare.  Perhaps it was the overriding agenda of this administration to try to embarrass its opposition that was the primary motivation for allowing this to happen.

Politics is a dirty business.  But  someone needs to explain to Obama that he no longer is running for office.  If he continues to dishonor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, he might find that he will have one last political battle.  That will be running from the reputation and legacy he has created.

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THE VETERANS BEDSIDE NETWORK

 I first met Jim and his wife Connie when she was cast in our performing company’s revival of Meredith Wilson’s, “The Music Man.” Connie played the part of the mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. She was outstanding in the role.

 During rehearsals, Connie approached me with an invitation. She and her husband were part of a volunteer organization called the Veterans Bedside Network. There were several VA hospitals in and around Chicago. Several times a week they would put on performances of one kind or another to bring a little cheer and entertainment to the veterans who were patients.

 One of those facilities was Hines Hospital. It was so large that it had its own zip code.

 Jim and Connie went to Hines each Wednesday and conducted a “sing-a-long.” They had difficulty finding piano players and wondered if I would consider joining them on a once a month basis.

 I liked the idea and agreed to become part of this little singing troupe.

 The first night I was scheduled to accompany the performance I left my office early to make sure that I would be there on time.   Fortunately, the hospital had done an excellent job of posting signage and I easily found Building 159 where we performed.

 I got out of my car and walked in.

 Drab – somber – depressing. 

The walls were painted a dull ocher accented with an even more uninspiring brownish tan. Florescent lights barely illuminated the hallways – casting a sufficient but lifeless timbre to the passageways. When I got to the room it was the same.

 There was an upright piano in the room. Jim and Connie were already there.

 I said hello to several of the patients who were already in their seats. We had an audience of perhaps twenty people that night.

 From their faces I guessed that most were World War II vets; a few had probably served in Korea and one, who was the youngest, must have been in Vietnam.

 Veterans Bedside Network had compiled song books for the patients’ use. They contained songs that spanned a long time period – with everything from, “Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines, Nelly” to the Beatles’, “Yesterday” included.  As an accomplished sight-reader I had no difficulty accompanying the various selections that the patients chose. 

While most of our songs were done by the group, Connie would ask for volunteers who wanted to perform a solo. That night, four stalwarts  stepped  up to the microphone.   After they sang  we replayed their solos on the tape recorder that Jim and Connie had brought with them.

 I enjoyed my evening and felt that I had done a little something to brighten the patients’ spirits as they were recuperating. We concluded the sing-a-long with a rousing group rendition of , “God Bless America.” I learned that was to be every night’s finale.

 This once a month schedule continued for awhile.

 Well, we lost a piano player here and another there. Pretty soon I had become “the” piano player – and I was at Hines every Wednesday with few exceptions.

When I started, our Wednesday night guests were members of the “general population” of the hospital.  About six months into my stint, the Hines administration decided that our efforts would be better directed to the Alcohol/Drug treatment ward and to those there for psychiatric reasons.

This group was far less involved than its predecessor.  Although about the same number of patients attended, it was rare that we would get more than one to perform a solo.  In fact, most of the singing was done by Jim, Connie and me.

I would leave these sing-a-longs feeling rather depressed – and going through the dismal hallways as I left the facility merely added to that.  It took me a week to get over this malaise – and then I was back again.  But I soldiered on for another three years.

The program was not financially supported by the government – which meant that there were no orderlies or nurses who were assigned to assist the patients who wanted to participate. They had to make it in under their own power.

 One night a patient joined our little group. He came into the room lying on his stomach atop a gurney.  He was hooked up to an IV drip and had propelled himself to our gathering by using two canes.

 I can’t describe the discomfort and shock I felt at seeing this man. Was this the best that we could do for these people who had sacrificed so much for our beliefs and our country? When he asked that we sing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” I lost it.

 Although I realize it was an act of selfishness on my part, when we concluded that evening’s performance I told Jim and Connie that I needed to take some time off.  I agreed to stay until they found some piano-players to replace me. It took several months but they ultimately were able to recruit a few. 

I still ask myself the same question that I pondered that night. 

Is this the best we can do?”

If it is, we certainly have minimal requirements when it comes to the categories of compassion and gratitude. 

And as the government increases its role in the healthcare of all Americans – what might the rest of us expect?

 

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