David H. Hackworth
November 8, 1994


Veterans' day has different meanings for different folks. For many, it's a day to kick back. For others, it's for watching old men, some squeezed into uniforms from another era and for another body, shuffle down Main street.

For Veterans -- the majority white thatched, brittle and bent -- it's a day of speeches, bugles and drums, quiet and not so quiet assemblies where a drink or two goes down, as the GI's talk "of the good old days." Of barracks, soldiering, the derring do, the battles fought. And always there's the remembering, remembering, remembering of the dead pals -- those buddies whose luck ran out on the beaches of Omaha, the mountains of Kumhwa (sp), the Jungles of Dak To, the waters of the Persian Gulf, the skies over Baghdad, the slums of Mogadishu.

The battle memories are the hardest part. The horror of war never goes away, dialing up during sleep to replay its grimnightmares or flipping on when a car backfires or a door slams shut. Nor do the faces of the friends who fell disappear. Their images sit front and center in our brains, forever yesterday young, their deeds and death deeply recorded and recited by rote like the story teller's serial number.

Veteran's Day should be a day for Vets to sound off to those who know the lingo and the lies. Vets understand each other. They've a special shared danger-bonding that helps many in the healing which never in one lifetime is 100 percent. Their warrior talk blows away the loneliness which comes from not being able to explain what happened to them to those who didn't make the journey.

This day should be one of serious reflection, to every American, not just about putting up our feet or talking about when we were young and brave. We need to think about the wars that were just -- WW1, WW11 and Korea -- and the bad ones, the futile swamps -- the Vietnams, the Lebanans, the Panamas and the Somalias -- where our cause was unjust or uncertain and where Americans died in vain. We should find out who was responsible for the miscalculations and look deeply into how we can prevent more of our youth from being so savagely wasted.

Many Vets today are asking : just what the hell they fought for? They say the "great sucking sound" is the values and ideals that made the USA the land of opportunity flushing down the toilet. They say: try walking down a dark street in most towns in America without feeling you're on patrol deep behind enemy lines; take a look at our rivers, our forests, our eco system and pretend your're not wandering through Death Valley; look at our youth who have little future beyond serving burgers and no hope to ever make it as their grandparents did; examine our sidewalks littered with needles from drugs that threaten our young from within more than any enemy from without; see our pork-driven, self-serving politicians buy still more wonder weapons to fight an enemy that's not there while feathering their nests with retirement programs fit for kings; listen to the political campaigns so gutter-disgusting they make mud wrestling look like an intellectual sport and Joe McCarthy look like a choir boy. And don't raise your voice when scum burns our flag or makes a mockery of our laws because that's not politically correct in an America where few people have the guts to stand tall.

Did we fight and work so hard to watch our land and people become wasted and ruined? Bill Clinton said at Normandy last June "... America is the way it is today because of what people gave up 50 years ago." He got it wrong. America is the way it is today because too many of those of us who served switched off after we took off our uniforms, expecting the politicians to take over the watch and protect what we fought for.

So, have a good Veteran's Day -- but then after the celebration, take charge of our country again. There's 27 million of you out there, not to mention a few hundred million non-veterans -- you're the makings of some Revolutionary Army. Which if you think about it is what started America the Beautiful in the first place!