On Memorial Day and Heroism
I don't watch the TV news except the rare occasion when I watch Robin Meade on Headline News in the morning before work, and usually only then because she is so bubbly and clearly loves her job that it kinda wakes me up. I like that she loves America and our military members. Other than that, I limit my news to ESPN or similiar. So, when things happen like what happened this weekend with Chris Hayes of MSNBC, I usually only read about it afterwards. For those that haven't see it yet, here he is saying that he is uncomfortable using the word "Hero" with respect to our fallen brothers and sisters:
Again, there is zero chance I would have watched this live under any circumstance that didn't involve me being a prisoner. Especially since at the time he had a panel which included someone from The Nation, which generally has some of the worst anti-military reporting ever. I don't watch Rachel Maddow, I read her book. I don't listen to Limbaugh, read his book. It keeps me from getting too hostile.
Nonetheless, it angered a lot of you, and I know that because you flooded my inbox with emails. So, yesterday morning the Commander called for Hayes to apologize:
“It is outrageous that a highly paid network commentator is willing to enjoy the benefits of freedom, sit in an air conditioned studio on Memorial Day weekend and question the heroism of the men and women who have died for this great country,” said American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong. “More than 6,400 young American men and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the best that America has to offer. I wonder if Mr. Hayes would say to the three young children of Sergeant Dennis Weichel that their father, who died saving a young Afghan boy, is not a hero. Men and women voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way so commentators like Chris Hayes can spew their unpatriotic nonsense. He should immediately apologize.”
Well, he did shortly thereafter:
On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.
As many have rightly pointed out, it’s very easy for me, a TV host, to opine about the people who fight our wars, having never dodged a bullet or guarded a post or walked a mile in their boots. Of course, that is true of the overwhelming majority of our nation’s citizens as a whole. One of the points made during Sunday’s show was just how removed most Americans are from the wars we fight, how small a percentage of our population is asked to shoulder the entire burden and how easy it becomes to never read the names of those who are wounded and fight and die, to not ask questions about the direction of our strategy in Afghanistan, and to assuage our own collective guilt about this disconnect with a pro-forma ritual that we observe briefly before returning to our barbecues.
But in seeking to discuss the civilian-military divide and the social distance between those who fight and those who don’t, I ended up reinforcing it, conforming to a stereotype of a removed pundit whose views are not anchored in the very real and very wrenching experience of this long decade of war. And for that I am truly sorry.
Frankly, that seems to be a very well-worded apology, and I hope it was meant as one and people will take it as one, but I'm not holding my breath. Things like this seldom go away quietly. People get upset about something Limbaugh says or Chris Matthews says or Hustler Magazine prints, and then everyone runs with the rage. Most of the people offended by these things weren't actually listening to Matthews or Limbaugh or reading Hustler, they got annoyed when someone else (Newsbusters or Media Matters) talk about it. It ends up just feeding the frenzy.
On Memorial Day (and Veterans Day for that matter) I generally don't go to the events that others go to. I have nothing against those events mind you, but on Memorial Day I don't really need someone to tell me how I should feel about it. I know what it means to know folks who were killed in the service to their country, and my feeling uncomfortable in large crowds wouldn't really help that. But, I do read quite a few tributes, like this one from Tom Mannion discussing his son, Travis:
Travis was just 26 years old when an enemy sniper's bullet pierced his heart after he had just helped save two wounded comrades. Even though our family knew the risks of Travis fighting on the violent streets of Fallujah, being notified of his death on a warm Sunday afternoon in Doylestown, Pa., was the worst moment of our lives....
When my son died in Iraq, his U.S. Naval Academy roommate, Brendan Looney, was in the middle of BUD/S (basic underwater demolition) training to become a Navy SEAL. Devastated by his good friend's death, Brendan called us in anguish, telling my wife and me that losing Travis was too much for him to handle during the grueling training regimen.
Lt. Brendan Looney overcame his grief to become "Honor Man" of his SEAL class, and he served in Iraq before later deploying to Afghanistan. On Sept. 21, 2010, after completing 58 combat missions, Brendan died with eight fellow warriors when their helicopter crashed in Zabul province. He was 29. Brendan and Travis now rest side-by-side in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.
My friend and fellow Legionnaire "Old Trooper" added this:
Many things have changed, over the years, that people associate with Memorial Day. The media seem to have blurred the differences between Memorial Day and Veterans Day that Veterans take note of. Retailers look at Memorial Day as a time to run sales, adult beverage retailers run ads for people to get their favorite beverage to go with their weekend bbq and grocery stores run sales and specials on all you need for that weekend bbq and others look at it as a paid day off of work. I don’t blame the average citizen for not knowing the true meaning of Memorial Day, because they have been inundated with the benefits of the sacrifice of those that have fallen, so they can have that sale, so they can have that bbq, so they can have that day off of work.
To me, it has always meant what it was designed for, since I was a little kid. Maybe that’s because I was born on a military base in Germany and have had so many in my family that have served during war time, including myself? I don’t know, but it has been something inside of me for as long as I can remember. I look on the day with solemnity. When I go to the cemeteries, today, to place flags at the headstones of those that have served, I sort of lose awareness of everything else, except for why I’m there and what I am doing. It is a serene time that I cherish every year that I do this with my brothers and sisters from my Post. It doesn’t matter, to me, if they fell during battle, or passed away after a long life; they served and that is why I am there. Just like Rolling Thunder being in DC this weekend. A friend of mine does the ride from Minnesota every year, rain or shine, cold or hot. Why? For the same reasons that everyone else involved does, to honor and remember those that have gone before. That is what Memorial Day is all about. Whether a person quietly honors a personal friend or acquaintance or takes part in a public memorial, that is what is important. If you want to take part in a public memorial service, I encourage everyone to look up local activities, or check with your local VSO to see if they have something going on that you could help with, like placing flags at grave sites, or other activities. We have all Summer to have beer and bbq, let’s give this one day to those it was created for.
I follow Mike's (Old Trooper) advice and quietly honor them. Sometimes I go and play golf (as I did yesterday) and take the opportunity to talk to people about the guys (SSG Craig Cherry and SGT Bobby Beasley) from my unit that died. One thing I really don't want to do is get upset over what some guy on TV says. I understand why people were upset, and clearly agree, I just wish that this issue wasn't as important as the million things that we veterans did yesterday to remember our friends. Even though I shot a 103 yesterday (I stink at Golf), I'd like to think that the guys know I tried to honor them by sharing their memory with others.