Living in Society

Veterans Day 2021

Free Veterans Day breakfast in 2010.

I canceled today’s trip to North English for an Iowa County Democrats meeting featuring U.S. Senate candidate Admiral Mike Franken. It wasn’t important enough to reverse my policy of avoiding hour-long drives for a one-hour meeting. Few people knew I was planning to attend so I won’t be missed.

Iowa House District 91 political organizing can wait. I’m not running for office and don’t know anyone who is. When someone steps forward there will be plenty of time to prepare for the general election. I doubt there will be a primary for this seat. It may be difficult to find a qualified candidate.

Veterans Day will be a mostly indoors day as it is expected to rain this morning, dampening the ground for the rest of the day.

I spent time considering veterans I have known. Mostly that was World War II veterans who were part of my life. Neighbors in Northwest Davenport, and associates after we formed our chapter of Veterans for Peace. I thought of General Omar Bradley who “inspected” our formation in U.S. Army basic training. He rode by in a closed vehicle with his five-star flag flying on the radio antenna.

I’ve known a lot of veterans. Time was when a male felt obligated to join the military at least for a single tour. Such feelings were not universal and they do not persist. Today’s military includes more females, which is positive. Instead of such feelings we find ourselves at a weird intersection of commercialism and patriotism.

The hair stylist is offering free haircuts for veterans. I’m tempted to drive across the lakes to get one as my pandemic shag is more pronounced. The grocery store offers free breakfast. I’ll pass as I’m a better cook. Our local chapter of Veterans for Peace sent a list of dozens of merchants offering free meals and retail discounts at a variety of national franchise stores and restaurants. There will be ceremonies from which I feel distant. I have not been part of the crowd that wears military service on my sleeve. I believe veterans should do their duty, then return to society if they can.

I’m all for helping veterans assimilate, and for providing medical and mental health services to those who need it because of their service. In particular, the suicide hotline is important for veterans. If we can let our military experience recede into the background we should.

Portrait of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Carney (Uncovered) U.S. Army Photo by Mr. Russell F. Roederer. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I looked up my former battalion commander, Thomas P. Carney, and discovered he died in 2019 at age 78. I worked as his battalion adjutant in the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment in Mainz, Germany. He was part of the group that re-purposed U.S. Army training and doctrine after the Vietnam War. Among other things in his post-retirement life, Carney served as acting deputy librarian for the Library of Congress in 1996. He was also on the board of directors of my auto insurance company. He was a Democrat and one of the smartest people I have known.

Veterans Day rally in 2010. Ed Flaherty speaking with Sam Becker behind him.

I thought about Sam Becker who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He joined Veterans for Peace and was very active, attending rallies and demonstrations and visiting schools to discuss his service and the need for peace. He was in Guam when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time he favored use of nuclear weapons yet by the time I knew him he changed his mind and thought they should be abandoned.

We would encounter Bill Blunk returning from work with his brother at the construction company they formed after the war. He was present at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese bombing on Dec. 7, 1941. He presented Pearl Harbor reenactments in the alley between our two homes. The war changed him permanently.

The last of the World War II cohort is dying. This Veterans Day is mostly about them. That’s not to diminish the service of veterans of Korea, Vietnam, or any of our most recent conflicts. These were some of the veterans who influenced my life. We live in the shadow of giants who in real life didn’t seem so large.

Don’t thank me for my service today. Instead take time to consider veterans who were important in your life, at least for a while, before memory of them fades into history.