Defending America
David Hackworth
28 May 1997

MEMORIAL DAY 1997

Last Monday -- with a lot of hoopla from politicians -- the citizens of this nation honored those who died defending America.

But does the average citizen really give a damn? Do we really remember those who paid the supreme price from Bunker Hill to Bosnia or was all of the "Lest We Forget" talk only a well exercised political drill?

Does anyone except our serving warriors and the immediate loved ones of the fallen really care about yesterday's dead or the living men and women who have defended or now protect our freedom?

Or is Memorial Day just another day to kick back and enjoy the sun?

I think the vast majority of Americans simply take these past sacrifices for granted and only become concerned about veterans and national defense issues if they're veterans or when the war drum beats.

It seems that when the guns are silent most people become totally apathetic, ignoring the active duty military and the veterans who justly complain about how badly they are treated by the federal government and the Veterans Affairs.

The news is filled with stories about how our military has serious military readiness problems and veterans issues. But down on Main Street USA, these problems from past wars or future conflicts are too easily shrugged off. Which is unfortunate, not only for our veterans who feel used, but because the readiness problems ultimately translate into more dead to honor at some future Memorial Day.

Few people become outraged and yell "I'm sick and tired of seeing men and women not treated honorably when they return from killing fields or not prepared with the right stuff when they're sent to the Vietnams, the Iraqs, and Somalias."

Sadly, we have been down this road many times this century and the results have always been disastrous.

This week almost 800 serving soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and veterans checked in with me by email (teagles@hackworth.com). Many of their reports were alarming. Here is what our warriors and veterans are saying:

An Infantry leader deployed at the forward edge in Korea facing a million Type A fanatics reports that his Army mechanized platoon is short eleven men out of 31, his 16 year old Bradley Fighting Vehicles are worn out and his colonel is more concerned about how the barracks look than how well his men are trained.

An Air Force NCO reports that his maintenance team works seven days a week and ten to 12 hours a day. He says "We're over committed. We're at the breaking point, trying to do more with less to keep planes in the air. We'll soon have a rash of accidents."

A Navy pilot returning to the U.S. from a tour in the Gulf reports that within an hour after he climbed out of his aircraft, mechanics started stripping it for parts. He said "cannibalization has become the rule. We're hanging on by a thin string. Everyone is lying about the true state of readiness."

A Marine captain says " our ability to train is down the toilet. We're stretched to the breaking point and morale is the lowest I've seen. When will someone in the Pentagon realize that war fighting is a very perishable skill and we're losing it fast. "

An Atomic test veteran says "The Veterans Affairs has destroyed documents that could have been used as evidence that we were exposed to radiation from atomic bombs."

A Gulf War veteran says "We were used as guinea pigs. They shot us up with pyridostigmine (an untested anti-nerve agent). Now thousands of Gulf vets have died and tens of thousands are sick and no one in government cares. And no one is held responsible."

Only recently, Congressman Floyd D. Spence (R. SC), Chairman of the House Committee on National Security, said our armed forces are at risk of losing "the decisive edge that this nation enjoyed at the end of the Cold War"

Maybe Memorial Day should be called Scapegoat Day. Maybe this moniker would remind our citizens to take better care of our warriors -- past and present -- so we have fewer casualties inflicted from the enemy on the battlefield or from the Department of Veterans Affairs.