Prior to last week, I would have said the most hands-off subject in America was military service. We don’t always do right by our soldiers and our veterans, but we don’t like anyone who questions their patriotism, sacrifices and loyalty. We are quick to identify which of our family members and friends served in the military and those who served seem to belong to a private club of experience, language and camaraderie. The rest of us acknowledge that they did something special that we did not do. Universally and without personal proof, we believe our military is on duty, inland and overseas, ready to protect our landmass, our shores, and ourselves. Serving in the military is special, survivors are heroes.
In taking military service this seriously, we have devised, over the centuries, ceremonies, memorials, and rituals to honor their service and, especially, their deaths. The transfer of bodies, the burial ceremonies and visiting the graves are sacred occasions. Veterans identify by the unit in which they served, and they hold reunions and pilgrimages to the battlefields of war dead.
Expressing anti-war, anti-soldier, anti-sacrifice sentiments is considered totally disloyal at the very least and is usually followed by swift condemnation.
So where was the condemnation of the comments attributed to President Trump last week? Strangely, it seemed to emanate mostly from the Democratic side of our divided country. The side that is often accused of being unpatriotic, anti-military, and anti-American. Thousands of Americans pulled precious pictures of their soldiers, current and past, out of frames, scrapbooks and thumb drives and posted them on-line, along with prideful stories rejecting President Trump’s ugly words.
I dare say there are few families in America who do not have a soldier in their family tree. It does not matter much which branch of the service they were in, whether in war or peace, whatever the aftermath of that service, their families are proud of the fact that they donned a uniform, went to bootcamp, and suspended their personal lives for some duration of time in the service of the country.
It chilled my blood that our President gets away with saying an American soldier is less valued because she was injured, less honorable because he lost a battle, or less worthy of ceremony because they were killed. To my average person’s mind, this is as close to a treasonous statement as you can get.
His words brought an immediate slideshow to my mind of all the pictures in my family of men and women in uniform. My dad, along with 16 million other Americans served in WWII. He joined the brand new and unproven Army Air Corps around 1940 and was sent to Selman Field outside of Monroe, La., in 1942, as a navigation instructor. He used to joke that he went as a student but became an instructor because he was the only one who knew how to use a slide rule. Fifteen-thousand navigators were trained at Selman Field, the largest bombardier and navigation training center in the country. He married in Army dress white uniform before leaving to serve as an interpreter as the Allies marched into Italy and Germany.
My mother’s family proudly traced themselves back to soldiers of the Confederacy and the Revolutionary War and all three of her brothers served in the Army.
My ex-husband and his brother joined the Marines in the late 1960s. I have cousins, nephews, and friends in every branch of the service.
One of my favorite memories is of my very handsome cousin Jan who came to visit in his white sailor uniform when I was in ninth grade. Talk about impressing my friends. And my family is not even what I consider a military family. We are just a normal American family, proud of those of us who made military service a part of their lives, even at the risk of disability and death. Is it too much to ask that an American president be proud of them too?
My dad always got a big kick out of singing the Army Air Corps song with us. Anyone brave enough to join a unit that sang this song is not a loser. Nor was my Dad.
“Off we go into the wild blue yonder/ Climbing high into the sun/ Here they come zooming to meet our thunder/ At’em boys, giv’er the gun/ Down we dive spouting our flames from under/ Off with one hell-uv-a roar/ We live in fame or go down in flame/ Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps.”