“How do you think the country is doing?”

By John M. Schluep

Recently a question in a local newspaper asked; “How do you think the country is doing?” One respondent stated: “The stock market is doing better than I expected. I am disappointed that our veterans aren’t respected more and our flag is disgraced.” My initial reply was, Hmmm!

Those who are delighted that the stock market is doing well have money invested in the stock market; which most of us do not. But it is the second and third comment that strikes a chord in me: “I am disappointed that our veterans are not respected more and our flag is disgraced.” Political statements to be sure and worthy of comment. Historically our nation’s veterans are dis-respected and ‘kicked to the curb.’ Several sources: Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, by Brian Matthew Jordan; and The Bonus Army debacle following World War I (look it up you will be shocked), and Soldier from the War Returning, by Thomas Childers. Priority boarding on commercial airplanes, rounds of applause for “Our veterans” announcements and yellow ribbon magnetic stickers on rear bumpers are nice but not necessary or sufficient. Those old enough to remember the Vietnam War know how our veterans were ridiculed.

Third, “…our flag is disgraced.” I think (assume) the person if referencing the NFL players taking a knee in protest of violence against racial minorities in our nation.

As a veteran I am not looking for accolades, “Thank you for your service” when you have not asked what I did, or giving me preferential seating, a free coffee or meal on Veteran’s Day, is nice but not needed. What is needed is this: Listen to my story. Hear what I did and why – try to understand. Cry and laugh with me and know that I understand the cost of our liberty and service. If my fellow citizens believe the only way to be heard is to protest by taking a knee during our National Anthem, then I will stand for their right to protest – I have their 6 – this is their right paid for by me and our comrades both living and dead. Maybe our leaders would serve our nation more effectively if they asked, “Why do they take a knee? What are the issues they experience that I do not?” That is leadership. Defending our flag means protecting what the flag represents – the right of peaceful protest, the right to assemble, the obligation to speak when there is a wrong committed.

In 1974, I served as a platoon leader with the 3rd Platoon, C Company (Airborne) 172nd Arctic Light Infantry, 4th Battalion 9th Infantry. All the Non-commissioned officers, E-5 through Command Sargent Major, and Officers, Captain through Lieutenant Colonel were Vietnam veterans. I was a minority by time in service, location of service and by race. I was their student, their protégé and they were my mentors – I learned what was important and what was not; what was worth dying for and what was worth living for – Freedom, justice, equality, liberty.