by Rod D. Martin
November 11, 1999

The mission statement of the VFW Washington office is “to honor the dead by helping the living.” This motto should be our theme this, if not every, Veterans Day.

Veterans Day – originally Armistice Day, commemorating the end of “the war to end all wars”, World War I – becomes a more somber event with each passing year. The number of World War II veterans (my generation’s grandparents) who die every day is now 1,100, almost as many this year alone as died in the war they fought. The homes, and the communities, and the Legion posts they leave behind are no less empty for the passage of time in between.

It is good and right that we honor them. It is appropriate that the Wall is one of the most visited spots in our Capital. It is high time that Tom Hanks’ crusade for a World War II memorial bear fruit, and that the Korean monument be completed. It is wonderful that we continue the parades.

But the best way to honor the dead really is to tangibly help the living, no matter how much they deserve and we owe our celebration of them.

And so, I offer you a small, and far from complete, wish list for the men whose courage gave us our liberty, and for those whose bravery guards it today.

1. Congress should immediately commit to taking proper care of our veterans. From Agent Orange to Gulf War Syndrome, our government continues to treat our servicemen like forgotten step-children when it comes to that government’s own mistakes.

Likewise, it is a slap in the face of every military retiree – men and women who served their entire lives on the frontline of freedom – that federal civilian employees have a better health plan than they do, and one which stretches past age 65 to boot! It is equally wrong to deny military retirees concurrent pay, forcing them to surrender chunks of their retirement in exchange for veterans’ disability.

Congress can whine about the cost all it wants, but it forgets the cost its servicemen spared our nation. Plenty of lesser programs – funding for pornographic “art” comes to mind – could be eliminated if Congress really wanted to do the right thing.

2. Americans should amend the Constitution to bar desecration of the flag. Some argue that this would violate free speech. That’s nonsense: it is the equivalent of saying that you have a First Amendment right to bomb the Capitol or shoot the President. Curse the flag, yell at the flag, say anything you want to the flag; but don’t touch it. Men and women died under it for you.

3. Congress and the President must immediately address the needs of America’s servicemen. If you think veterans have it bad – and too many of them do – you should talk to the 12,000 families in uniform that live on Food Stamps. Or the two-thirds of American servicemen who live in substandard housing. Or the one hundred percent of Army regulars who face the prospect of going into battle in units even the Pentagon considers unready.

Does this sound overblown? It isn’t. According to a recent Pentagon report, not one of the Army’s ten divisions is presently at the highest level of readiness, and two of the ten (the 1st Infantry Division – the Big Red One – and the 10th Mountain Division – Bob Dole’s old unit) just received the lowest possible rating.

What does this mean? Opportunity for our enemies, and needless loss of life when they attack.

Some might say there are no threats now that the Cold War is over. They’ve obviously forgotten Iraq, North Korea, China, Bosnia, Kosovo, and over one hundred other countries to which American troops have been committed during the Clinton years.

America’s troops are under-funded, over-committed and dangerously weakened. The last time this happened was under Jimmy Carter. The black eye we got in Iran still stings. The servicemen needlessly lost at Desert One are still missed.

It’s time for Congress and the President to reassess our military posture. The troops need a real pay-raise – not the dinky “increase” just passed. They also need the spare parts, the functioning equipment, and the proper training necessary for them to do their jobs as safely and effectively as they can. Finally, they need the modern tools it will take to do their jobs at all in the dawning century: thirty-year-old fighters and fifty-year-old bombers are just a small part of the disgrace we call a military, while needed programs like the F-22, B-2, and Seawolf submarine are hopelessly delayed and cut back.

We can do better. We must – for the sake of honor and the blood our servicemen have shed – do better. On Veterans Day 2000, let us hope that a column like this one can’t be written.