Tag Archives: Veterans Day

Veteran’s Day 11 Novemeber 2013


Monday, Veteran’s Day, I am taking a vacation day. It’s one of those ‘family things’, my step-dad did it and so do I (we are both veterans). Panera Bread is offering current and veteran members of the military a lunch on Panera Bread, wear your uniform, show your ID card or discharge papers and lunch is on them. Many places have offers to those who are and have served. It wasn’t always like that.

I have a book in my library written by a college professor in which he answers questions from people of an opposite political opinion than his. I have not forgotten his name or that of his book’s, I am just not promoting them. I want to mention two of the questions he answered.

First, he addressed Vietnam veterans being spit on when they returned from Vietnam. He said this supposedly happened, but there is no proof it ever happened, not even once. I went in the navy five years after Vietnam. I remember being called baby killer and someone spitting on me, and we were treated a lot better than those men and women five years before us. Bill, my step-dad and a Vietnam veteran, he was spit on and worse. Sorry professor, you got that one wrong.

Second, he addressed the accusation that people of his political opinion are weak or even anti-national defense. The rest of this chapter was spent making the point that man-made global warming (the book was published before the term was changed to “man-made climate change” to cover downward changes in temperature as well) is a national defense issue and since his side is very strong on man-made global warming, then his side is actually very strong on national defense. Professor, when people point a finger at you and say, “You are weak on national defense” I may not know the specific issue they are thinking about, but I can tell you it is not climate change, they already know where you stand on climate change.

You see Vietnam Vets, like my step-dad and some of my friends; they were treated pretty bad when they came home. My group, those of us who served between 1975 and 1991, we were pretty much ignored except by a few hostile people left over from Vietnam protesting days. I remember when Operation Desert Shield started (when we began deploying people for the first Gulf War) the anti-war protests started again. There was a backlash against the protestors across the nation by the middle and lower classes of our country. Those from the Vietnam protests days, who were organizing protests for the Gulf War, were shocked by the backlash; they did not see this during their earlier Vietnam protests. They quickly came out with statements that they were against the war, but supported the troops. The public did not believe them, and though they continued their protests, they tuned it down a little bit.

Those vets, the first Gulf War vets, were treated pretty good by the people when they came home, and today’s veterans are treated even better (though the United States government never has done a very good job supporting veterans). I support the better treatment, the way the men and women were treated when they came home from the Vietnam War was a national disgrace. I saw their treatment with my own eyes, and no book by a college professor will ever convince me I did not see what I saw.

Here is my deal. I do not mind the protests, it is an expression of freedom of speech, it is our constitution in action. When I joined the navy I swore to obey the President, but I swore to protect and defend the constitution from all enemies. I understand why some people mistreat veterans, to them the members of the military are the war (some of them even believe people in the military like killing people) and they feel justified in their actions. But, I’ll keep my opinions on those people and their actions to myself.

I know people (some are friends of mine), who say war is not necessary there is always another way. There is always another way and I am glad for those people who believe this, I encourage them and would like nothing better than to see all the people of the world believe this one day, then maybe we could end wars.

I decided to serve in the military because there are some wars that have to be fought. You talk with men and women who have served and you will receive many reasons for why they volunteered. Bring up “defending those who cannot defend themselves” and without exception every one of those veterans will agree. You can hold up Hitler or any other person who needs to be stopped and I will agree with you they should be stopped, but not by war. They should be stopped by other means.

The people in Hitler’s concentration camps and gashouses, the Kurds gassed by Sadam Hussein just before the second Gulf War, the victims of genocide in Bosnia, Africa, Central and South America, you cannot protect them with sanctions and rhetoric. These are men, women, and child tortured and murdered while we try other means. The longer we try those other means the more victims are created.

The problem with wars are the leaders and celebrities both for and against, they are only concerned with winning a political argument. The people who stand to make money from war get their “boys & girls” on the hill to wave the flag and talk about patriotism. Their political opponents scream about blood for oil or whatever happens to be the expeditious slogan of the day; during Bosnia, the opponents stated the president was trying to get attention off his scandals and the attempts to impeach him, by going to war. The people who propose war rarely do it for the right reasons, to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Those who oppose war too often ignore those who cannot defend themselves – out of sight, out of mind.

Most of the wars my country has fought in the last 100 years should not have been fought, and there are many other wars that should have been fought (to defend people who could not defend themselves), but were not fought.

To me the worst part of those wars we do fight is what we do to our men and women fighting those wars while they are fighting. Once again, it is all politics. You see the losing side of the political fight, republicans during Bosnia and democrats during Iraq, write “rules of engagement” that the military must obey while fighting the war. The political opponents are usually responsible for more American military blood than our enemy is. In Afghanistan a US soldier brings his/her weapon to bear on two people operating a mortar lobbing shells at him/her, but they are not allowed to shoot them because the attackers are dressed like Afghan civilians and therefore (in the mind of politicians in the military and in Washington DC) may actually be an innocent civilian or there may be other innocent civilians standing near them. (The enemy know this and so they ensure all combatants are dressed like civilians.) So, more American women and men die needlessly thanks to politicians and generals back in Washington DC.

In Iraq, our enemy know that if they attack us from inside a mosque they can shoot at our soldiers all day and fear no return fire. Why? Because those same politicians do not want mosques damaged (it’s ok to damage churches and synagogues though), they are afraid our enemy will think we are fighting a religious war, a war against Islam. Except the political, military, and religious leaders of our enemy have already declared this war to be a religious war against all non-Muslims.

News flash to those in Washington DC! If the only time a mosque is damaged by our troops is when they are returning fire from our enemies, the Muslim moderates (our politicians claim they are pandering too) will notice this and realize we are not targeting their mosques. Not only does this rule of engagement kill many of our own men and women but also it presumes that if you are Muslim you are too stupid to notice the difference between damage done to a mosque while in battle and a mosque that is destroyed in the absence of a battle simply because it is a mosque.

I think the next time these politicians propose a war for money (republican or democrat) or the next time they (republican or democrat) oppose a war that needs to be fought to defend those who cannot defend themselves, we should take both sets of politicians give them clubs and lock them inside the capital building in Washington and let no one out until only one is left standing. I think there would be fewer wars and fewer genocides around the world. Yes, I am a veteran. Yes, if the need arises again and if I think I will be useful, I will put on a uniform again. Yes, if I have to, I will kill people in war. No, I do not like war. No, I do not like killing.

You want to see a smile on my face? Flash forward thirty years, I am walking with my granddaughter:

“Grandpa Mommy says you are a veteran. What’s a veteran?”

“A veteran is someone who served in the military. Do you understand Sweetheart?”

“Yes grandpa.”

“Grandpa?”

“Yes dear.”

“What’s a military?”

You help make that conversation possible and you will see a smile on my face that took eighty years to create, a smile like I have never had before. And the tears that will be streaming down my face will be from a joy so intense no words could describe it.

Joe C Combs 2nd First offical navy portrait November 1980.

Joe C Combs 2nd First offical navy portrait November 1980.

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My Two Cents Worth


First, let me say, if you remember your lost loved ones on Memorial Day, good. There should be more people like you. Even if your loved ones, specially if your loved ones, did not die while on duty in service in the armed forces. You may not like the way I start today, but stay with me to the end, and then, just think about what I say.

Now, onto my purpose today, one of my biggest ‘pet peeves’ is Memorial Day. Actually, the way we observe Memorial Day. Memorial Day is officially the observance of those who died on active duty in the armed forces while in service to their country. Today, in America we put flags on the graves of every person who served in the military. We also use today to honor our deceased loved ones … family, friends, even pets … most of whom never even served in the military and certainly did not die while on active duty. And do not get me started on the “commercial” side of Memorial Day.

I know that when I die, every Memorial Day there will be placed on my grave a small American flag (usually by a veterans group, religious group, or a youth organization). If I could, I would reach from below the earth covering my grave and yank that flag down. I lived to the end of my military service, hung up my uniform, and took my place among the ranks of LIVING veterans. Memorial Day was not intended be a day to remember my military service or me. It was intended to remember men (and women) like my great-uncle. My great-uncle died at the battle of Belleau Wood while in the army in World War 1.

Belleau Wood was a surprise attack by German forces in June 1918 (during World War One). The American allies retreated from the onslaught, leaving the United States Army in its front-line positions on its own. The United States Marine Corps, the only help to the embattled and surrounded soldiers in the trenches. It was during this battle that the German soldiers nick-named the marines “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs”. It was in that battle the US Marines established themselves as a disciplined, tenacious, elite fighting force; the battle also marked the death of my great-uncle. He was a young man in the prime of youth, who left behind neither children or wife to mourn his passing. He sacrificed all of that and more for our freedom. Memorial Day belongs to him and his brothers and sisters who have joined him in making the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Our present Memorial Day was actually copied from an earlier memorial day observance … Confederate Memorial Day established in Columbus, Georgia in 1866.

As in most wars, the men who are tasked with fighting and dying are the poorest among us. Those men who did most of the dying in Confederate grey could not afford to own slaves (unlike their generals), and often had to compete against the slave labor just to feed their own families. Many of those young men fought simply because there was an invading army of blue that had march onto daddy’s farm. As in all wars, the reasons men fight are as varied as the men themselves. Confederate Memorial Day was about honoring those men, and not about racism or hatred, a “Lost Cause” or even a lost nation. Many of those men left behind families who were now destitute and still grieving their loss. As with many of the families of the Titanic, the world was a cruel place for a family without a husband and father to provide for the family. Life, as hard as it was to be poor in the south before the war; was unimaginable for a poor family in the destroyed south after the war without its patriarch. Those families (as with many Titanic families) would never recover from the loss.

In 1868, the veteran’s organization Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) called for a national day called Decoration Day to honor fallen union dead. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day. But, it was not until 1967 (more than a century after Confederate Memorial Day) that memorial Day became an official federal holiday.

From its earliest roots, Memorial Day, has always been about honoring those men and women killed while serving their nation. Veterans Day is about honoring all veterans … living and dead … who served their nation. If you want to stick a flag on my grave, do it on Veterans Day, but do me a favor and wait until I’m occupying it first.

Most nations have a day to honor fallen war dead, but they also have something the United States does not, a Remembrance Day. In different nations it goes by different names, but Remembrance Day is a day to honor family and friends who did not die a premature death in service to their country. In Russia, families take a picnic lunch and go to the cemetery. At the cemetery they repair, replace, clean, scrub, weed, plant flowers and so many other little things to honor their lost love ones. This is an annual national day in Russia. THIS is the day to honor our non-war dead, not Memorial Day. This is a day we need to have in the United States, and maybe one day, when we learn our own past and honor it, we may have a Remembrance Day.

I once heard a tired old veteran say something I have never forgotten. He was standing over the grave of a man barely two decades old who died in World War Two, a young man too young to leave behind a wife and children to remember him.

He said, “The worse death of all is the second death. To die for your country and then to be forgotten, that is the second death.”

When we add all of our other loved ones to Memorial Day, we are doing that very thing. They become lost in the sea of grief we shed for all our lost loved ones and they die the death of being forgotten. All those men and women deserve better from us. Yes, even those young boys who wore grey so many years ago.

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