This past September 20, 2015 once again signaled the recognition of National POW/MIA Recognition Day. This is an annual day of recognition upon which the nation ostensibly honors those service members who endured captivity and reflects upon those whose remains have yet to be recovered. The truly sad fact is that most Americans have no idea there is such a day of recognition and fewer still are aware that there are still, those ‘missing in action’.
For some, it is also a day to remember those family members and friends who lie still, under the cold earth of so many foreign countries. Another thought that comes to mind on a day like this is just how much we have changed as a society from the time when young men went off to sacrifice so much for their nation.
The typical soldier who died in battle in World War II was 21-26. In Viet Nam he was 19-25. In either case he was a young man who would never see a grandchild. In all likelihood he would never see his own child at their first day of school. He would probably never have the joy of stepping through the door of his first, purchased home, and in many cases never sit behind the wheel of his first car.
There are so many experiences these young men would never have and so many others back home who would never have the pleasure of making their acquaintance. They would in all likelihood die a horrible death preceded by months and months of daily life that involved bad food, twenty hour days and some of the most austere living conditions imaginable, and they knew this before they stepped up to the plate to take on this challenge.
In virtually all campaigns and wars America fought leading up to Viet Nam, young American men and women eagerly for the most part, took on the challenge. The reasons so many were willing, are myriad but the patriotism, sense of responsibility, and love of country were unmistakable. The sad fact is that the complete opposite attitude of America’s youth today is also unmistakable. How could America and American’s youth, change so drastically in so short a period of time from a nation of those who fought to be first in line to volunteer, to a nation of those who fight to be first in line for government handouts?
A great place to look to find an answer is to America’s leaders and those who, for other reasons are in the spotlight. During WWII, America was led by Franklin D. Roosevelt who although he had no military experience due to a crippling illness inspired the nation in ways no other president has.
‘All volunteer’ State Guards were formed to replace the National Guard units which had been activated and sent to war. The Civil Air Patrol was established, providing spotters for air reconnaissance, and search-and-rescue efforts. Auxiliaries used civilian boats and crews in rescue roles. Towers were built in coastal and border towns and volunteers were trained to recognize enemy aircraft. Blackouts were practiced in every city with virtually 100% voluntary participation. Most of this was done, not so much as an operational action, but to remind people that there was a war on and to provide activities that would engage the civil spirit of millions of people here at home. The USO was formed in 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide morale and recreation services to uniformed military personnel.
The majority of our leaders in Washington who made the decisions to go to war were never questioned by America because they had earned the right to make these difficult decisions through their own military service. Most of them set an example for America by not using their positions of power to enrich themselves. Public service to these men was just that. America respected them and trusted in their leadership, and America’s youth followed in their footsteps without question.
Hollywood then, was most often another source for inspiring our youth to take on this challenge. Most of the leading men in virtually every segment of the entertainment industry during this time had served their country. Many of them were nothing short of heroes and medal winners. Others inspired through their art, encouraging pride in the United States. America was truly a great nation, respected by the entire world because of these values.
Our young men were men who had paid their dues, figuratively and sometimes literally. They had earned the right to be called men, to be trusted to make the hard choices and to do what the nation called upon them to do, to be given the responsibility of leading other men and yes, to make that instantaneous decision to take another man’s life.
They had been given nothing. They had stolen nothing. They had worked and trained most of every day for months and months and finally following the blood sweat and tears, had earned these rights, responsibility and respect. They were a reflection of our leaders and they had true role models in the entertainment industry.
In our American society today, far too many young men demand respect they have not earned. They demand a portion of the fruits of other’s labor and in gangland inner cities like Chicago; they demand the right to take another’s life simply because they choose to do so. They demand these things with no concept of ever earning. They too, are a reflection of our current leaders and the unfortunately high number of selfish, self-absorbed individuals in the entertainment and sports industries they rely upon for role models.
America, then and now; sad.