Honoring the Veterans

Bill Neinast


Two days before Veterams Day I attended a memorial service for a Normandy survivor.  Dick Dickinson missed the goal of his 100th birthday by six months.

Shortly after Taps and folding the flag and presenting it to Dorothy, Dick’s widow, I saw TV coverage of the men and horses that pull the caisson with flag draped coffins at Arlington National Cemetery.

These two demonstrations of honoring men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedom, safety, and security stand in sharp contrast with millionaire athletes refusing to even stand for the national anthem. The only thing they are willing to give for our country is entertainment for  sports fans.

Aggravating the thought of those wealthy, privileged athletes giving the finger, in effect, to those who have and are giving their lives so we all can enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, was In Harms Way.

This is the book that describes in vivid detail the sinking of the USS Indianapolis a few days before the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan.  Those bombs, by the way, had just been delivered to Tinian Island by the Indianapolis and the ship was on its way back home.

The detailed description of what the 317 survivors suffered through four days before rescue requires some tears and heart wrenching to read. They had to watch over 600 of their comrades be eaten by sharks, drown, or die of thirst.  Sipping in even a bit of the plentiful salt water only hastened death. 

This heart wrenching account of what some brave, determined sailors suffered for me brought back memories of my neighbor, Bob Sweatt;

Bob was the sole survivor of “Trouble,” his B-24 bomber that was shot down over France.  His survival and escape from the Nazis is chronicled in the book written by his son-in-law Larry Smith and named after his plane.  The book also details the efforts of the courageous French families who risked their own lives and families to keep Bob hidden and then moved through a mine field to reach a boat for England.

Not to be forgotten is another neighbor, the late Clem Kathman, a Bataan Death March and Japanese POW camp survivor.  His four years in hell are described in his own book, “I Was There Too, Charlie.”

All of these are heroes  of WWII.  Their valor and sacrifices were repeated many times over in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other less catastrophic encounters like Panama and Cuba.  

The Vietnam war and those that followed ushered in a different type of warfare.  Instead of divisions storming the beaches of Normandy, we had companies or platoons marching into ambushes of relatively small bands.  They had to be constantly in fear of riding over, stepping on, or otherwise igniting IEDs that blasted off legs, arms, eyes, or other body parts.  

Just as dangerous were those locals dressed in their country’s uniforms and supposedly under training by our personnel.  There had to be constant fear that one day one of those “guards” would come into camp with a bomb concealed as a vest.

Even more tragic was one of our own, Major  Nidal Malik Hasan, killing 13 soldiers and injuring more than 30 others in the Fort Hood mass shooting on November 5, 2009.  That was just ten years ago and right here in our own back yard.

This is just a tiny thumb nail sketch of the hundreds of millions of Americans who have faced unimaginable fear, injury, and death for us in the last 80 years.  Some of them we know personally, most of them, however, we just read or hear about.

So here’s the perspective.

Remembering these men and women only when we fold the flag over their coffins or turn out for a parade on Memorial Day and Veterans Day does not do them justice.

There should be a procedure for teaching our young people about the price of our freedom and wonderful life style.

One possibility is to have a required course in every high school of reading and discussing one or more of the many books like the ones mentioned here.  Wherever possible, have a veteran monitor the course and share his experiences with the students.

Let’s try it.     



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