Today is Veteran's Day, the day we remember the living. Or go shopping.
The Commonwealth combine their Memorial and Veteran's Day into Rememberance Day. So if you see people walking around with red flowers in their lapel, they're probably British or Canadian.
Americans like soldiers, but love to ignore veterans. I learned this as a child.
My father is a former Marine and retired VA counselor. He spend 10 years working on the psych ward, where he once held down a man who slit his arm, spraying blood everywhere. This was in the days before AIDS, but it was ghastly.
Then, my childhood was filled with stories about how honorable discharges had secret codes placed on them, and how even with an honorable discharge, people couldn't get jobs. And then we would meet some of his clients during our Saturday food shopping. They were, of course, recovering heroin addicts and former combat infantrymen. The two kinda went together for a while.
But my favorite memory was triggered by something I saw recently.
When the Iranian hostages were released, they were given a tickertape parade down Broadway, and free lifetime passes to major league baseball games. (ESPN was doing a story on this.)
But that was the moment which galvanized the Vietnam Vet movement. I used to go to a model shop owned by vets. Pissed wasn't the word. I was about 17 at the time, but I remember they were enraged. All these people did was get captured, but they got a parade. You had Vietnam Vets who had been whipping boys for the media for years. People lied about their service because they would get incredibly hostile reactions.
I didn't know a single person who had dodged the draft well into my 30's. Every adult I knew old enough to be in Vietnam served in Vietnam.
But that parade led, in 1981, to a parade of Vietnam Vets, the first ever. They had begun to reclaim their legacy.
Now, things have turned to the point where Webb's Vietnam service became a sign of character, while the draft dodging of George Allen was used against him. Despite the mythology of the military being right wing, Democratic veterans from Wes Clark to VoteVets have made a massive difference. Avoiding Vietnam is no longer a benefit for candidates.
I don't think people realize the greatest social revolution in the US was not the Civil Rights Act, but the GI Bill. It broke the back of the class system in the US. Before WWII, college was for the rich and lucky. It wasn't totally classist, Norman Mailer, Eli Wallach, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Miller all went to college before the war, but for the most part, it was an exclusive club, and if you didn't get a scholarship or have money, you didn't go.
What the GI Bill did was establish the middle class. Men could go to college or buy a home with a low mortgage. Regardless of race or religion. What that did was change who ran America. Henry Hyde, Bob Dole, Ed Koch, Charlie Rangel, John Conyers, a generation of American leadership in every field opened up because of military service. George Plimpton started the Paris Review because he went to college in Europe on the GI Bill, Paul Newman went to Kenyon College, hundreds of thousands of people, many now prominent in our public life got their start via the GI Bill. Even Poppy Bush paid for Yale on the GI Bill.
One of the reasons for the widening economic gap in the US is because there is no way to transcend class. Newman was an enlisted man, a rear gunner on a Navy carrier plane. Yet, he became an actor because he went to college. At one point, most of Congress was filled with the beneficiaries of the GI Bill.
The reason I bring this up is that current benefits for soldiers are so much more meager. You have to kick in, and if you forget, you don't get any money. The benefits don't even pay for state college. The lure of college is such that most people enlist for that reason. But it is rarely delivered.
If this country appreciated the people who served it, we would have a GI Bill which would give the current veterans of our wars the same benefits that the "greatest" generation got.