As we look back at the gratifying homage paid to our nation’s military members, past and present, on Veterans Day, some vets can’t help but be moved by the enormous change in attitude toward Americans in the service.
Think about this touching story: A recent American Airlines flight from Chicago to San Diego had six empty seats in first class, and the company has a policy to upgrade service members in uniform whenever possible. The problem was that 14 Marines were boarding the flight on their way home from serving in Afghanistan. When passengers seated in first class heard that some of the Marines would have to sit in coach, seven people immediately got up and moved back to the more pedestrian accommodations so the GI’s could have the more deluxe seats.
At baseball and football stadiums, soldiers are given tickets and invited to meet players and participate in pre-game ceremonies. When they travel in uniform, they are bought lunches by passers-by.
In today’s America, our service members are honored.
And that’s as it should be. These are people who have signed up for a tour of duty that may very well take them to places most of us don’t want to go to do jobs most of us don’t want to do.
Most people wouldn’t consider putting their lives on the line in close combat to uphold the ideals of our country.
Yet that’s what men and women in the military service do without reservation. For that, we treat them with great respect and deference, as we should.
But it wasn’t always so.
During the Vietnam War, service members and veterans were scorned by much of the public, as if they had themselves engineered the foreign policy that required them to spend a year in harm’s way.
Many of those service members and veterans had been drafted — it was certainly not their idea to go halfway around the world to engage in a war against men with whom they had no personal quarrel.
Had they dodged the draft, they would have incurred penalties assessed by their government. By complying, they incurred penalties assessed by their fellow citizens.
In some circles, it was an act of shame to admit to having been in the military, in those days.
We should all be thankful that that era is far behind us. The rank and file in the military don’t choose which conflicts to participate in. Their job is to follow orders. Politics is not part of their professional profile.
This week, we honored our service members and veterans in a manner befitting their contribution to our way of life. We have come a long way in the last 40 years.