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How to thank a vet on Veterans Day

Terry Garlock's picture

Lip service.

That’s how we Americans stand behind our men and women in uniform these days.

We talk about how much we love them, but we are increasingly detached from the military, uninvolved in the wars they fight on our behalf. We would even scream our protest if required to pay for those adventures rather than billing our children. So much for commitment.

With Veterans Day a couple of days away, I’m reminded that Israel has the right idea. In that country, military service is compulsory for all over 18, three years for men, two for women.

Shared sacrifice has not only the virtue of equity, it imbues citizens with a durable sense of responsibility and duty to protect their country that you do not spontaneously sprout in between episodes of “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Besides, nothing makes a young man or woman grow up fast quite like heaping responsibility on their shoulders in a lethal setting.

Let me reach way back to my own experience to make the point. In mid-October I drove to John Synowsky’s ranch south of Weatherford, Texas, where eight of us gathered from the Dragon platoon of the 334th Attack Helicopter Company, Cobra pilots in the Vietnam War.

As we relaxed around the campfire swapping decades-old tales we probably heard before, Larry Pucci was telling a story while my mind drifted back to a different episode that he probably would love to forget.

In 1970 President Nixon broke with his predecessor and ordered American forces to cross the Cambodian border to cut the enemy supply lines coming from North Vietnam down the Ho Chi Minh Trail — at long last!

Larry Pucci was just 19 years old, an Aircraft Commander in a 334th Cobra, the first helicopter designed as a weapons platform, a gunship. His copilot sitting in front of him was Wayne Hedeman the day they were on the tip of the spear of the Cambodian incursion; Wayne was an elder at 25 years old.

Larry and Wayne were caught in a helicopter trap, where a very tough enemy placed .51 caliber anti-aircraft guns at the three points of a triangle, and when you make a rocket run at one of them, one of the other two guns would have an easy broadside shot. One of those big .51 rounds was not even slowed down as it passed through Wayne’s neck, and 19-year-old Larry pulled the guts out of that Cobra flying as fast as it would go to the Tay Ninh hospital, but it was too far and Wayne was dead when he landed on the pad.

There was no time for grief because Larry’s wingman needed him and the battle was a big one, so he rounded up a replacement copilot while the ground crew patched the canopy holes and washed the blood out of the cockpit, rearmed and refueled, and Larry flew back to rejoin the battle, pushing the bad experience way down in his gut to hide in the secret box that combat troops use to conceal the bad stuff so they can do their job.

The bad stuff never really goes away, and when they open the lid once in a while decades later, those memories are still wrapped in feelings they had at the time, as fresh as yesterday. And we wonder why many vets have a hard time talking about it.

That was just one day for one guy long ago in Vietnam. Our troops today are doing the same modern-day version repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan, with four or five deployments to a war zone common and their families at home serving their own tense tour as they wait.

Every day for the last 10 years American troops have been doing things in combat far beyond our imagining, with heavy responsibility for subordinates’ lives, mixing extreme physical stress with operating highly technical multi-million-dollar equipment, while back home others their age have only a passing awareness of the war while they focus on their smartphone and wouldn’t dream of anything so drastic as working with their hands.

The disconnect between our armed forces and citizenry reminds me of the medieval privileged class hiring mercenary forces to do their dirty and bloody work, concerned about results but not casualties; they aren’t “our” people.

I know, I know, you do care!

Nonetheless, It is on our behalf that our troops are sent again and again to a war zone. It is on our behalf that politicians seeking our vote publicly declare a war in progress to be immoral or wrong war, wrong, time, wrong place, or compare our troops to Nazis or Stalin or Pol Pot. It is on our behalf that political games are played with surges and drawdowns, announcing to our enemies when we will quit the battlefield.

It is on your behalf and mine that combat rules of engagement (ROE) emphasize extreme caution about civilians even when that elevates the risk to our own troops. It is on our behalf that the leadership measures victory in world opinion rather than conquest by overwhelming force.

It is arguable that our leadership’s new obsession with news cycles and combat restraint is the root cause that America’s enemies no longer fear us and some friends no longer respect us.

It is on our behalf that the deficit commission results may require draconian defense cuts even while our troops are in harm’s way, even while untold billions of political pet projects remain in the defense budget over military objections. We are responsible for that train wreck.

I admit to having a deep love and respect for every uniformed U.S. boot on the ground and butt in a cockpit, but I also have an abiding mistrust of our political and military leadership. Rising to the top ranks requires political savvy, and they sometimes do not act in the best interest of our troops. Here’s one example.

Michael Yon is a highly regarded war correspondent in Afghanistan, a former soldier. He recent wrote an open letter to the Secretary of Defense about the U.S. Army’s policy of displaying red crosses on Army medevac helicopters, and therefore by Geneva Convention they may not be armed. Since a red cross is simply used as a bull’s eye by our enemy, the U.S. Air Force, Marines and British helicopters have removed them so they can carry weapons to defend themselves.

Here’s why it matters more than it would appear. While the U.S. Army refuses to remove the red crosses, operating without weapons means they are not allowed to pick up wounded in an unsecure area unless and until helicopter gunships arrive to provide them cover, just as I did long ago in Vietnam.

The problem is in Afghanistan the distances are vast, the gunships too few, and delays mean more wounded die before reaching a hospital. But the Army won’t budge. See why I don’t trust them?

If you really do care, there are a few things you can do. You can write a letter to your Congressman and Senators and President to tell them to help the Army pull its head out of its stubborn butt, tell them if they want your vote they better stop playing politics with our troops. My critics think I say these things as a political ploy against Democrats, but Republicans disgust me, too, just not quite so much as Democrats.

Right here in Peachtree City there are a few things you can do to say thanks to our troops. You can help Father David Epps and the Marine Corps in their annual Toys for Tots program (see http://newnan-ga.toysfortots.org).

Cathy McMullen in Peachtree City continues her efforts to help improve the lives of kids through a program named Embracing Military Families (see http://www.embracingmilitaryfamilies.blogspot.com/).

Mimi’s Good Food on Ga. Highway 54 at Petrol Point, my coffee hangout, will be collecting donations to send goodies to our troops again this year.

All these programs need and depend on your help, a way to multiply your good will to those doing the dirty work in our stead.

Show our current troops your support where it counts. That is the greatest gift I know you could ever give a vet on Veterans Day.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is terry@garlock1.com.]


I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment that we, as Americans, do not appreciate the sacrifices made on our behalf by our men and women in uniform. Young lives are lost, parents lose children, children lose parents, spouses lose spouses, and the list goes on. It is a heavy price to pay indeed and we are forever indebted to those Americans from all wars that have fought for our freedom.
I disagree with your statement however that "Israel has the right idea" in their cumpulsory system of military service, i.e. "the draft." I know many veterans of the Vietnam war who felt they were legally forced into servitude to fight a war they didn't belong in for a cause they didn't believe in. The social opposition of the time along with the resentment of this situation is still being felt a generation later.
Today, the military and all of its branches are a real and viable educational and career path for our youth. Most will learn valuable and marketable skills they can build on later in civilian life careers, and get paid to learn them! For those who choose a future in the military, they can retire in as little as twenty years with full medical benefits and a pension. Yes, there is a risk of injury and death, but with today's wars being fought more so on a technological front, the percentage and number of lives lost is minimal compared to the ground wars of yesteryear.
Most importantly, these brave and valiant men and women are in their position because they are proud Americans and want to serve. It is only fair they are justly compensated now and in the future for their work.
This system works Terry and a suggestion to return to an antiquated compulsory service system is unrealistic, unnecessary, and would prove to be unproductive in the end.
Otherwise, your article serves as a necessary reminder to us all of the importance we all should put in thanking our veterans every time we get the chance.

Mike King's picture

My friend, I must point out that your statement: "many veterans of the Vietnam war who felt they were legally forced into servitude to fight a war they didn't belong in for a cause they didn't believe in." does not represent the typical Viet Nam veteran.

Does this very same statement represent those of my father's generation who were drafted and bled on the shores of Normandy, Tarawa, or on the outskirts of Bastogne? If so, are you saying that as an individual we get to choose which leaders we follow? Do we only obey those laws we believe are valid?

That resentment and social opposition is not indicative of those who actually fought in that conflict, but I contend that resentment remains in many of those who did not participate and perhaps now decades later feel remorse. Just my take.

BTW, the retirement package for employees employed by your own city is more lucrative than that of today's military.

In any regard, a great subject for a breakfast discussion.

And thanks for the explaining another side. Having not served in the military, you are a better judge than I am on the perceptions and lasting impact of the draft and those that served. My point, which I do believe, is that the idea of a volunteer organization, that offers a prosperous career path, is superior than a draft that randomly chooses who will and will not serve.
In regards to military benefits versus those provided by the city, I am not sure what your issue could be. The Mayor has stated he spent three years overseas (for what we know not) and thus certainly has the expertise to make an informed decision in that arena. Comparatively, there is significant training needed and inherent danger in an occupation involving, oh let's say, maintaining the cart paths for instance. There service should be rewarded equally.

tgarlock's picture

. . . just to be clear I absolutely do believe compulsory service for young Americans would be good for them and good for the country, despite the fact some would be reluctant, despite the fact the military leadership would prefer not to deal with conscripts. With some thoughtful management on who gets what job it could work without damaging combat effectiveness, and I would envision an alternative to military service, like Peace Corps equivalents. We need not wrangle over details because it's academic anyway, will never happen.

I see you drank the Vietnam Kool-Aid, but can't dissuade you without writing a book here. When I talk to high school students about the war I tell them their parents very likely know some things for sure about the Vietnam War that have never been true, because generations have been raised hearing a myth-based message. You have plenty of company my friend.

Terry Garlock, PTC

maximus's picture

You think we should thank our vets by forcing their kids into involuntary servitude? I, for one, would rather not be thanked.

If my sons decide to go into the military it will be their decision, not yours or some scuzball politician’s looking for cheap cannon fodder. And if they do decide to volunteer, I don’t want them fighting next to some draftee whose only goal is to survive for two years and do as little work as possible.

The last thing we need right now, or ever, is another huge government program to pay for and deal with. The conscription of all 18, 19 and 20 year olds would be about 14 million people! Can you imagine the size and cost of the government bureaucracy it would take to deal with that?

Mike King's picture

I don't deny your opinion on the military being all voluntary, but your apparent disdain for those who have been (or might be) conscripted is surely borne of personal experience. I would offer that many, including myself, have had the experience of serving with draftees whose courage and fidelity were far above that of those 'regular' types.

maximus's picture

…quite the opposite. But, it almost sounds like you might have a little disdain for those “regular” types.

I can only go by what my own attitude might have been had I been drafted rather than going in on my own free will.

The fact that most draftees rose to the occasion doesn’t make it right. And, if you force all 14 million hapless souls in that age group into the military, or some make-work situation, you’re going to end up with a lot of bad attitudes and huge bill.

Offer the pay and support that it takes to build and maintain an all volunteer force. People who support the draft are usually looking for a cheap way to build up the military, or want to force their idea of character on to today’s yutes.

Mike King's picture

No disdain for anyone, regular or no, wearing the uniform. You are right that most draftees did rise to the occasion just as their regular counterparts. My rationale for those who didn't was a lack of leadership. I would be interested to hear your view.

Somewhere between what Mr Garlock believes and your stance lies the answer for currently we as average citizens have little to no contact with those who stand prepared to defend us. A most noble endeavor that I trust you would not deny.

maximus's picture

The problem is and has been a lack of leadership, especially at the top when claiming that a draft was necessary.

And I agree with everything that Terry says when making his points on the complete lack of leadership and common sense. He talks of the lack of leadership, reasoning, and direction from the white house, the Army brass with their heads up their butts, how some of our elected “leaders” compare our troops to “Nazis, or Stalin, or Pol Pot”.

He makes these observations, and then thinks that we should turn all of our kids over to these same people as soon as they turn 18!

Garlock has some great ideas on what we can do to help, and one really bad one.


Happy Birthday Marines!

I was going to post this exact line of reasoning about how untrustworthy the army is, but how we should be forced to turn our kids over to them for a few years for the good of the nation! Interment camps anyone? But, Editor Cal seems to banish me for a few days when I expose the logical fallacies of his regular contributors.

Maximus wins 6.5 Ninja points for partially exposing the truth! Sharpen that pen some more!

Jackets will prevail even without God on their side!

we agree completely in the main gist of your post, which is that we all are guilty of not thinking or thanking enough those who fought for our freedoms. You'll have a hard time convincing me that a compulsory draft is better than a volunteer system but as you said, probably a moot point.
When we have that coffee I would also like to get your thoughts on the current situation in Iran and their nuclear program. I have been struggling with the appropriate US response on that, since sanctions don't seem to be enough of a detriment to change the Iranian course.
I keep asking myself, what would Haddix do?

kcchiefandy's picture

...has the best program for instilling duty to nation in their youth - compulsory service to the nation. For 2 years after their 'high school' completion every young man & woman must serve in either the military, national hospital system, or several other agencies/fields available. At least it was that way when I was there '88-'91. The military option avoids it being a true 'draft', as it is a choice, and I imagine their attitude(s) are/would be much better than being forced - specifically - into service. Anyone know if it's still that way?

Never mind; Google found my answer. Seems that program has ended; too bad...

The discontinuation of mandatory military service in Germany also means an end to a parallel system for community service. It will be replaced by a new voluntary system in July 2011. But will young people still work if the law no longer demands it? Powered by www.newslook.com Producer : Deutsche Welle

other than to protect itself and for civil unrest, correct? If so, it's hard to compare two years of compulsory service in that regard to fighting foreign wars. That is more like our National Guard.

The Wedge's picture

The German Federal government control the joint military and civil force called the Bundeswehr. It's role is to be a "defense force", but they were certainly prepared to defend West Germany in its day with armored regiments and divisions. The Germans have capped their Bundeswehr at around 340,000, but I don't think they have that many in it currently. IIRC, they are armed with leopard tanks and can be quite effective. I imagine they will abandon the capped numbers sooner or later. How long are we going to fight WWII and Korea?

suggarfoot's picture

I think they will always try to keep a 'low profile' when it comes to a military because of the stigma from WWII.

It is sad what happened to them. They are no doubt some of the smartest people on earth, but they got caught up in Hitler's deal.

Twice, such a small country took on the world and gave a mean fight that caused other countries to be on their guard for many years. They recognize this, so they never make a big deal about their military.

The Wedge's picture

The birthrates and demographics are changing in europe. When that happens and Europe changes character, all bets are off. Look at how is reproducing over there. It isn't the French or Germans. It is the North Africans and Middle Easterners living in these countries that have four or five times the birthrates.

mudcat's picture

If the muslims outnumber the old socialists dying out and the young socialists not reproducing, then government will be under muslim control. Will they have their right-wing religious leaders run things? Or will they simply merge into the do-nothing, government dole lifestyle and reject their religion?

suggarfoot's picture

but I was talking about the German people as they were. I would think they are still in control, but what you are saying is true. Too many countries have been shamed into taking a lot of malcontents, so to speak, not trying to say that of NA or ME, but not up to snuff immigrants.

As Nuk pointed out, some countries have kept their sanity and not been shamed into taking people that have given them nothing but grief. He was talking about New Zealand. They don't have the legacy of WWII stigma, or the US slavery BS. Now look what they have (New Zealand) and what we have. Their housing prices are going up, people want to move there. They have a great country. The tide is changing a little in this country, but we have taken immigrants, paid their medical and put them at the head of the line, why? BS.

I believe strongly in helping ourselves first. This country is in bad shape and we need to get our armies home and help our people.

suggarfoot's picture

I have a friend and he was a child during WWII. Because of that he refused to join the German army when he got older and wound up moving to Canada, then he wound up here just in time for the VN draft!

Their army is not the old goose stepping bunch, but they are still very much around.

If anyone remembers the Lufthansa flight 181 rescue, that was some of their
'Rambo' guys. That was really something. I knew one of those guys.


and today


suggarfoot's picture

we don't choose our wars wisely nor do we seem to value the life nor limb of our guys. If we did, you could cut the list casualties in half.

I remember the VN war all too well. I saw how it destroyed my friends. The core of it was old macho men's pi$$ing contest. (don't split hairs about Johnson, Kennedy, and the rest with me...I know those details) I hope Johnson (and the rest responsible) are roasting in hell for prolonging it. I also wish they had to fight..it would have ended much quicker when their blood and body were on the line.

My heart went out to those Vets, and way before it was 'fashionable', I let them sit in my couch, cry and pour out their hearts to me. What we did to them and for what, in my eyes will always be criminal.

A lot of our later vets were used (middle east) for big oil's interest.

The price/value of our young men's lives has been set and it has been cheap.

I can trace my family back to Rev soldiers, Confederate, WWI and WWII and they all served with honor. It looks good on paper. But the dirty little secret is the messed up lives of the Vets and their families.

I would fight anyone on sending my son off to war for big oil, or anything short of killing us here on US soil.

My ex was a 'Rambo' type in VN. Marine Scout, but he is laying in a Kentucky hospital dying/on a resporator from his war wounds as we speak. My son is sitting at his bedside crying for a father that could never play sports with him, who was haunted by flashbacks, memories of friends dying, hand to hand, was in constant pain and could never be a real Daddy to him. What a crime against my child.

Was it worth it? Would I let my son do it? Hell NO!

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