With the recent shooting at the Naval Yard and Ft. Hood, we are reminded once again of the disconnect between our citizens and our warriors who put their lives on the line to defend freedom.
Much lip service is given to the slogan "Freedom is not free," but very little thought is given to the cost. In the days and weeks following 9.11, we were indignant and outraged that our soil had been attacked for the first time since the Japanese attacked American soil in Hawaii, Alaska, and the coast of California. Flags flew from virtually every home in our great land.
When I was a child, I can remember my mother talking about gas rationing; sugar and coffee rationing; investing in war bonds; and Victory gardens. Even on the home front, sacrifice was required. Nowadays, the ongoing war is a mere matter of inconvenience for most, certainly not for the families of those courageous young men and women in uniform.
For my generation, there was no welcome home. We were portrayed by Hollywood and the press as "baby killers" and drug addicts, and the effects of PTSD were compounded by the public's disapproval. Another generation that suffered similar stings were the fine young lads and ladies who served in the Korean Conflict. Their's has been oft characterized as the "Forgotten War." It was largely swept under the rug in hopes that it would go away.
Are we as a society going to continue to treat returning Veterans as pariahs of society? Are we not going to insist that their wounds be treated, both the visible and those unseen? If so, we can expect to be plagued by further instances of inexplicable madness.
About forty years ago, a Commander of Post #10069 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars wrote an article which was posted in The Star. In it, Commander Marvin Shimfessel described the public apathy of that time. Shimfessel is a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps and served during the Korean Conflict. Here are the Commander's words from four decades ago:
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10069 of Port St. Joe this week urged that all citizens speak out in support of the President of the United States and the efforts of the United States government to stem the flow of Communism in South Vietnam.
Speaking on behalf of Post No. 10069, Commander Marvin A. Shimfessel said: "The delegates attending the V.F.W. National Convention in August in Philadelphia, Pa., unanimously urged that our government continue to seek victory in Vietnam and that all of our citizens lend their full support to the men on the fighting front."
"Frankly, we are sick and tired of listening to a very vocal minority undermining the bargaining position of our President and in so doing endangering the lives of our men on the fighting front. It is my belief that the time has come when the much talked about silent majority should speak out. We must let the men on the battlefield know that they have the support of the people at home and we must let Hanoi know that the President has the support of the people in this country."
"It is my hope that the people of this area will speak out on this issue and that other patriotic, civic, and fraternal groups will join with us in this crusade. I am fully conf(v)inced," Commander Shimfessel concluded, "that if we fail to speak out now, the vocal minority in this country will most certainly take over all that is meaningful in this land of ours. No one seeks peace more urgently than the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but we will not seek peace at any price which is what the vocal minority is calling for today."
Here, nearly half a century later, we may readily see how clearly Marvin Shimfessel's words still ring true. The names and faces of the enemy have changed. The attitude of the government concerning an honorable peace has varied, and majority and minority voices within the public's demographics have shifted. But, the basic premise still holds as true today as it did then.
We are more concerned about whether Auburn or Alabama has the better football team. We are stressed about the high prices for gasoline. We casually enjoy our flavored and iced coffees with brand names we had never heard of twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. We go to the gym to burn calories and bask in relative luxury while our troops put their lives on the line against an invisible and fanatical enemy. Our young heroes in uniform must restrain themselves in their engagements and are not allowed to bring to bear the full force of American power. America, have we really become so soft and so selfish?
Soon, a group of wounded servicemen and women will visit our community. Will we, as Commander Shimfessel once implored, let those from the battlefields know that they have our "full support?" Will we take time from our busy days to show our respect, to line the streets in a show of encouragement? Will we volunteer, contribute? Readers of The Star, in this new century, how will future generations judge that we treated our returning Veterans, and how will our patriotism compare? Let us hope that observers will say that we rose to the occasion and were in our finest hour. Please continue to pray for our troops and especially for those in harm's way from Gulf County.
Rodney L. Herring
Rodney L. Herring, Cdr.
John C. Gainous Post #10069