Saturday, July 31, 2010

A New Greatest Generation

My father joined the Army in October of 1941, and served as a Combat Medic with the 7th Infantry Division in the Pacific.  He took part in the re-taking of Attu & Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, was there during the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll as well as a number of smaller places that never made the news, and ended up in the Philippines for the invasion of Leyte.  He was wounded there and made his way home by a very circuitous route which involved stops in numerous military hospitals.  He never talked about his war.  As a child, I once asked how he had gotten all of his scars, and he joked he had been offered a choice of digging foxholes or going on a patrol.  While on that patrol in front of his own lines, someone dropped a mortar round behind him.  Today it would be called "friendly fire".

My father-in-law was a navigator in the 525th Bombardment Squadron, 379th Bombardment Group(Heavy) at Kimbolton, England during World War II.  It wasn't until late in his life he began to recount some stories of his time there, and most of what he shared was more lighthearted than serious.  His B-17(g) was named "London Avenger" and was paid for with pennies donated by schoolchildren in England and christened by the Queen.  He and his crew members were more than a little disappointed because they had wanted to be able to design & paint their own risque nose art, but couldn't because of the political implications.  Only when reading through his matter-of-fact recounting of the 35 missions he flew do you begin to get an idea of what he endured for his country and the world. 

 My mother's second husband joined the Marines as soon as he was old enough, and since it was late in the war, passed through basic and advanced infantry training rapidly.  He spent some very memorable time training and practicing amphibious assaults on Maui with the 4th Marines before heading out to his first real combat.  He made it ashore on a little island named Iwo Jima, and lasted almost half of his first day before having a chunk of oriental metal try to take off his head.  He spent a great deal of time recovering in Pearl Harbor, San Diego and other Navy Hospitals, but was finally able to stand after more than a year.  He experienced neurological difficulties, pain and muscle weakness for the rest of his life, but he still lived that life to the fullest.

These three men and their lives were my personal reminders of the selfless contributions made by what has become known as "The Greatest Generation."  The war they were willing to give their lives in winning has been referred to as the last "good" war, meaning most people understood why our country was fighting, knew who our enemies were, and supported those soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who were actively engaged in the conflict. 

Today we are engaged in a conflict which is spanning our world.  This war, for there is no other word for it, doesn't have the support of the American people, who are divided, based more on their political leanings than any critical thinking.  People get tangled up in the politics, and try to blame one politician or the other, but it is OUR war and it affects us all, like it or not. Those who try to characterize it as a "good" war or a "bad" war are complete fools! There are no good wars, only necessary ones which we wish we didn't have to fight. That's one of the first things most soldiers learn...the only good war is the one they don't have to fight, because they are the ones who pay the price.

Yesterday we learned that yet another soldier had paid that ultimate price in Afghanistan as a result of an encounter with an improvised explosive device.  This was a hometown boy the age of my daughters.  He won an appointment to West Point out of high school, graduating and going on to become an Army Ranger, then into Special Forces and earned the right to wear the Green Beret.  This month of July has the dubious distinction of having the greatest number of casualties since we entered the country nine years ago.

These brave young men and women who are going in harm's way every day on our behalf are the ones who need and deserve whatever comfort & support we can provide.  Those residents of our country(I can't call them citizens) who refuse to support their troops because they don't agree with the politics of someone they blame for starting this war; for not waging it the way they want; or for not ending it as quickly as they'd like, need to engage in some personal soul-searching.  If you must, play political games with your own life, but give these brave warriors what they need to do our country's bidding and then let them do their job.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Veterans' Benefits

People who are acquainted with me know if they want to start a spirited "discussion", all they have to do is say something about the cushy benefits veterans are "given" at taxpayer expense.  After my retirement from the Army, I quickly found I needed to maintain full time employment as long as I was interested in luxuries such as regular meals and indoor plumbing.  I discovered once I was on the outside of the military healthcare system, access became more difficult and more frustrating as those care providers I had served with left because of their own retirements or PCS moves.  Within a very few years, I had to find other health insurance, and what the military provided served only as a secondary source of coverage.

With this as background, I was pleasantly surprised by a benefit the state of Texas affords some of its veterans.  In recent years, specialty license plates have become a popular means for states to raise revenue.  Charities and colleges each have their special plate advertising their cause or team for a price.  I knew that Texas, at little or no cost, provided some of these plates to select groups of deserving individuals, such as winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor and those who earned a Purple Heart. 

About a year ago, I was driving around FT Hood and spotted a plate I had not seen with an image of a Legion of Merit medal emblazoned upon it.  I checked the TxDMV website, and sure enough, if I was willing to fill out some paperwork and find a copy of my DD214, a set of plates with what my Lovely Bride calls my "pretty medal" could be mine.  There was something about paying registration fees, so I assumed I would have to pay my usual annual fee for the privilege of using these nifty reminders of my military service.  Last week the anniversary of my getting these plates was approaching, so I was not surprised to receive a renewal notice in the mail one day.  On opening the notice, I was startled to see there was no renewal fee listed.  The next time I was in town, I found my way into the county tax office to try to rectify whatever error had been made, only to be told that there was no error...there really was no annual renewal fee for holders of the Legion of Merit.

Revisiting the TxDMV website revealed that there are a large number of plates available, allowing almost all veterans to demonstrate pride in their service to their country.  Some are completely free, some have a one time charge for acquiring the plates, and others have an annual fee on top of the annual registration fee.  What they all do is convey the message that you have honorably served your country and are proud of having done it!

 Texas DMV Military & Veteran License Plates