Leader was part of a war that left many veterans bitter

Admiration for McCain

As a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, I’ve been through many changes in attitude toward Vietnam veterans in particular, and veterans in general. At first, one had to be careful even admitting Vietnam service, as it might cause a negative reaction from many people, and on a few occasions, did exactly that.

I never hid the fact I was a Vietnam veteran, and in fact developed a very “in your face” attitude about it. Arguments were met with justification of my pride in my service, and most importantly, that of my Brothers. And yes, I believed that then, in that Brotherhood.

Some years later, after the first Gulf War, that changed. All of a sudden ALL veterans were heroes, even those who really weren’t by any stretch of the imagination, and that was coupled with an outpouring of sorrow and regret and rethinking of the treatment of Vietnam veterans and we were buried in “Thank you for your service” remarks and pats on the back and respect from everybody.

To be honest, it was a bit hard to take after that many years, hard to accept the legitimacy of it all, harder still to watch the accolades heaped on the veterans of a three-day war that we were denied for so many years. I confess to some bitterness, and I know others who feel the same way. Many of us, myself included, if the person handing out the back pats and thank yous were about my age, wondered what they were saying about us during the war. I did firmly believe then and still do that at least some of it was guilt.

Now with a full turnaround after Sept. 11, 2001, where almost anyone in a uniform — clerks, broom sweepers and desk jockeys included, and people who have never left the states — are heroes. It has cheapened the word considerably. And that respect has an ugly side to it as well that confuses me, especially in that word “Brother” or “Brotherhood.”

In my world, those words are about combat and most especially fellow Vietnam veterans, “Brothers” and “Brotherhood” being short for “Brothers in Arms.” It’s not that I don’t have any respect for those others listed above, but the word “Hero” doesn’t leave my lips in their case, not ever. Do I respect their service? Of course I do. There is a difference though.

And now to the real point of this commentary, the relationship of veteran status to politics. Some of the most vociferous veteran supporters, including actual veterans, and more inexplicably to me, combat veterans, and even Vietnam veterans, support a president who has totally disrespected one of America’s true heroes by ANY definition: John McCain. This president not only disrespected McCain’s service, saying, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

He has continued that disrespect even now, after his death, by refusing to issue a White House statement calling McCain a hero, he “tweeted” instead, and even raising the flag less than 48 hours after McCain’s death until a backlash occurred and it was once again lowered to half staff. I have NEVER liked John McCain’s politics, never supported them, but when I saw him I always knew I was looking at a heroic character. And yet this same president and his supporters call out NFL players about kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest because it “disrespects our military.”

Really? More than what Trump said about McCain’s service?

I might add, this sort of thing began when John Kerry ran for fresident, when these same “Super Patriots” and uniform worshipers disrespected the service of a man with three Purple Hearts! I also disagreed with a lot of John Kerry’s politics and past behaviors, but never once did I ever consider disrespecting his service. Once again, all of these people are members of the modern GOP, which to be honest has little to do with the older version, pre-1980s. I might add, I never heard once, anyone in opposition to that political party, make, for example, negative remarks about Bob Dole’s service, another military hero, and the genuine article. Once again, though I didn’t care for his politics, Bob Dole was a genuine American hero.

I’d hope at least somebody might think about reassessing their thinking when it comes to veterans: who they are, what they do, and most especially, what is and what is NOT disrespect toward them.

Paul Christoper is a Dunkirk resident.