Monday is Veterans Day. Flags will be flown, speeches will be made and the country will stop oh so briefly to honor those who have served in the armed forces.
At my 50th class reunion, for the first time we acknowledged our classmates who served during the Vietnam era. Several of my classmates served with guard units. One had a remarkable story to tell.
He joined the United States Army in the summer of 1968. My classmate had just turned 17. His parents had to sign for him to go in. His father was a pharmacist and owned one of two drug stores in town. As the Army moves in logical ways, he was assigned to become a combat medic.
He completed the training, but because he was still 17, the Army refused to deploy him to Vietnam because, as he said, kids of 17 getting killed was bad publicity.
After doing some research I found out that Dan Bullock (December 21, 1953 – June 7, 1969) was a United States Marine and the youngest U.S. serviceman killed in action during the Vietnam War, dying at the age of 15. My classmate had a point.
My classmate said the military was a good place for him. It straightened him out and he got out of my hometown before he was killed or went to jail.
The education he received in the Army allowed him to go on to greater positions in the medical field until he ended up as an expert in nuclear medicine technology. My classmate, like my dad, served his country, took what advantages he could out of the experience and used it to make a better life for himself.
Honestly, I am concerned about the state of our veterans today. Last week, I had to drive through Chippewa Falls, Lake Hallie and Cadott. All the bridges in Chippewa Falls are named for a branch of the military. Lake Hallie has a Peace Park, Cadott has a Veterans Tribute and of course Neillsville has the High Ground.
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The city of Altoona will have a veterans tribute or walkway. I am uncertain what is going to be called. The state of Wisconsin has 17 military memorial highways and six military memorial bridges. We are very good at naming military places, roads, bridges and setting up memorials to honor our veterans, but it all gives me pause.
I have been to the battlefield at Gettysburg. I have been to the Vietnam Wall. I have been to Arlington National Cemetery. I have been to the King Veterans home and cemetery. I have been to the military cemetery at Fort Snelling. I have been to the WWII Monument in Washington, D.C.
All those places and people there hold an honored place in our memories and the nation’s. Yet with each passing year, I have become more and more uneasy.
Why? We rely on a volunteer military, not the old pick-up-your-musket military. We constantly deploy those same people over and over and over again. The rate of military suicide is growing and our medical care is slipping. More and more veterans are requiring more from the Veterans Administration and our society.
We become more willing to make monuments than to provide for the needs of veterans. The United States ended the draft in 1973. In 1973, the active component of the military comprised 2.2 million men and women. Now, this group comprises just under 1.29 million, or less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population.
It is nice to erect monuments and memorials to our veterans. I entered my dad’s name to the WWII Registry at the WWII Monument in Washington, DC. But it is with a growing concern people have realized that we are not meeting the needs of the veterans that are still here now.
I often wonder if the draft were still in place, would our military strategy change? Perhaps fewer deployments overseas and a more concise exit strategy to get us out of conflicts; then, more discussion before we get into conflicts? That is a discussion for another day.
For today, best wishes to our veterans you have our respect.