Thoughts on Veterans’ Day. Or Armistice Day. Or whatever you wish to call it in your household.
• Our national anthem will be sung many times this week. During the recent baseball playoffs and World Series, I saw a hopeful trend: Singers who rendered “The Star-Spangled Banner” with quiet, steady-voiced dignity. Some of them actually held a note for several seconds without adding the wobbly, jazzed-up curlicues that are endemic in modern vocalists.
• I also saw a new (to me) custom emerge: The singing of “God Bless America” in the seventh inning of each game. Not hard to take. If nothing else, that melody by Irving Berlin is much easier to sing than the SSB. A question arises: If, for any reason, we went for a year without patriotic songs being featured at athletic contests and other public events, would our sense of pride in America be endangered or weakened? If I don’t stand up frequently and announce, “I love my children,” does that diminish my love for them?
• Would patriotism (both the good and bad kind) survive without wars? It might, but it would be greatly watered down. If we did not have war veterans to honor, who would we salute? Naturally, we’d hold remembrance ceremonies for police officers, firefighters and other public servants who died in the line of duty. But would that generate the fervor that we feel when we hear taps played at Arlington Cemetery and other places where U.S. veterans now rest? I doubt it. In America, no group is held in higher esteem than those who show themselves willing to die for their country. We may deplore war, but it keeps happening. Until all nations renounce it, we’d better keep our powder dry.
• Are all wars honorable and necessary? The answer to that question is too obvious, and too heart-breaking, for me to state.
• For many veterans, wartime was the most meaningful event of their lives, even if they never heard a shot fired. It was when they had no doubt of what they were living for. They pine for those days, to their last breath. For other veterans, wartime was a duty to be performed honorably and well, and then to be left behind. No holiday parades, no flag-waving. Which of these two classes of veteran should we esteem? My answer: Both, and equally.
• In Great Britain at this time of year, Remembrance Day ceremonies honor those who have served in uniform. A year ago I was in London and witnessed some of the parades, salutes, fanfares and fly-bys. For grandeur and showmanship, nobody does it better than the Brits. They’ve been involved in even more wars, police actions and bloody scuffles than the U.S. But given enough time, we may catch up.
• I spent the winter of 1951-52 aboard a Navy destroyer in the Korean War Zone. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.