Pay homage to those who keep soldiering on

Honor – Definition: High respect, esteem, deferential admiration; an expression of this; glory, credit, reputation, good name. (Oxford English Dictionary.)

Two military news items recently caught my eye. Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen’s visit to the Valley to learn from and honor the good work of Soldier On at our Veteran Administration hospital in Leeds. Groups like Soldier On are dedicated to finding solutions to our national scandal of a quarter million homeless veterans, helping people one at a time, which is the right approach. Another notable event was President Obama’s late-night trip to honor returning war dead.

My memories extend to the millions of World War II vets who came home with a golden eagle pin in their buttonhole. The eagle represented an Honorable Discharge and was dismissed as a “ruptured duck.” The focus then was to forget the war, find a home, start a family, get an education, get a job, or all four.#

Let me count the ways we made and are making military veterans: WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the cold war, Lebanon, Grenada, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and that’s off the top of my head. Your list may be longer.

President Barack Obama left the White House at midnight. His secret mission became known on the morning news. The president had flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to personally honor the latest group of casualties returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

As their nation’s leader, the president met with the families to provide what comfort he could. Also, one photograph showed him lined up with the honor guard and saluting as caskets were transferred from the rear of a C-17. Of 18 heroes flown home that night only one family gave permission for their son’s casket to be pictured.

America’s all-volunteer servicemen and women are, as the saying goes, in harm’s way. But, theirs is no gung-ho John Wayne movie where, mostly, it’s the extras that die. To watch the nightly news is to confront reality, as is reading in-depth newspaper articles and books that pull no punches on this nation’s policy errors during the last eight years.

Thousands are dead, tens of thousands remain maimed in body and in mind; our economy has been in freefall and no one of us sleeps comfortably in our beds.

War’s drumbeat has become day-to-day background noise for the majority of American families without someone in the service.

To anyone paying attention, President Obama has been accused of “dithering” by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

His charge is slanderous because this president hasn’t had a knee-jerk reaction to requests that he send more troops to Afghanistan. During George W. Bush’s two terms, Cheney was wrong so many times that his Monday morning quarterbacking should be read as an endorsement of reasoned caution. “Our troops will be greeted with flowers” in Iraq is just one awful example.

Invading or occupying forces are unwelcome in any country whose citizens have a sense of national pride. Afghanistan, where we’re taking most of our losses today, has a long history of ousting foreign troops. Just ask the British and the Russians. Our leaders will lose whatever credibility we have left if they do not honor history’s lessons.

Back to Dover AFB: The casket photographed was that of Sergeant Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Ind. Sgt. Griffin was 29, a high school and college wrestler described by friends as “tough and resilient.” Griffin was killed by an IED. Every time I read of lost youth I recall John F. Kennedy’s words on military deployment complaints during his presidency, “Life is unfair.” ABC’s Sunday morning’ program, “This Week,” has an “In Memoriam” segment showing the Pentagon’s listing of names, hometowns and ages for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s always hard to watch.

Honor, dishonor, and respect are the freighted adjectives of the military and of America’s mean streets. We dare not feel superior when shots ring out in Holyoke or Springfield and blame’s given to bad drug deals. Denial serves as a weapon of choice.

It’s not only veterans becoming homeless during this down economy. Bumper stickers don’t cure ills. As Shakespeare wrote, it is “Perseverance, dear my lord, (that) keeps honour bright.” Yes, he spelled it the English way, with a “u,’ which, to me, rings truer than our shorter form – honor’s a word never long enough – if justice be served.

Veterans Day today brings a time to honor those who loyally soldiered on.

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