The Unknown Heroes

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, June 26, 2012 No Comment(s)

On the way back we stopped off to see an old army buddy, W.C., who has a farm in North Carolina. The subject of us who did nothing came up. We met in the fall of 1958 at Fort Sill, Okla., where we trained in artillery. Then we went to jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., and then, as was common then, we ended our active duty after six months and spent the next eight years in the reserves. Where we did nothing. Man, it hurts. W.C. says that when at church they ask veterans to stand up and be recognized, he is embarrassed. “I never did anything,” he says. That goes for a good many million Americans, your correspondent included.

We had been in Washington, the D.C. one, where there are a lot of monuments. After the obligatory visit to the National Air and Space Museum, to visit our Messerschmitt Bf 109 G, we took the grandkids to see some of the better known. There is the Washington Monument, that striking spike in the sky, and the Lincoln Memorial, which looks like an art museum and would embarrass the late president, an extraordinarily modest man for one so famous, and of course, the Vietnam Wall.
From the mall we pointed across the broad Potomac to where Arlington Cemetery is located, and not far from the Marine Corps War Memorial, the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima, and we told the kids if they looked carefully they would see at the top of the hill the former residence of Robert E. Lee, which had, and still has, the best view in Virginia of the nation’s capital. We also corrected the impression, apparently inherited from their mother, an alleged history major, that Lee commanded the Union Army. She is in Ireland and unlikely to see this.  When you speak to a native Irishman about the Civil War, they ask “which one?” 
Which brings us back to W.C. and those of us who did nothing. Nobody keeps such records, but there are millions of us who put in time in the military, trained and ready to be forward observers (a dangerous job at the time) but who were never asked to fire a shot in anger, or try to duck one. In fact, our outfit, the legendary 446th Civil Affairs Company, Upland, Pa., Col. (later a general) Clarence D. Bell commanding, was thrown out of the army at the height of the Tet Offensive in the 1960s. We were considered useless, and why would anyone in their right mind argue that a unit studying Arabic and solving water problems in the Middle East had any reason to exist? Anyway, they disbanded the whole damned unit. It hurts, and it hurts millions of guys who are in the same boat, those of us who did nothing. Why are we not remembered in some memorial in Washington, D.C.?  Washington has memorials to everybody. Statues of generals, including some who were not very good, are all over the place. These are tributes to people who would have been better off doing nothing, but there is nothing to remember those who truly did nothing.
Fueled with indignation, and a few martinis, we went to visit the secretary of monuments. They made us check our assault rifle at the door, which is probably a good thing. “Mr. Secretary,” we screamed, “why no monument to the guys who did nothing? Do you have any idea how many of us are having nervous breakdowns – post-traumatic, do-nothing stress?”
“Calm down,” he said. “We are working on it. We have the support of Presidents Clinton, Bush (the younger) and Obama – all of whom did nothing like you great guys. In fact, they did less than nothing. Anyway, we will do it. “
“We need a name,” we said, “and a location. How about close to the congressional offices, filled with people who do nothing?”
“Beautiful,” he said.
“We need something that will knock their socks off. Like a riderless horse they use when the CIA kills a president. “
“That’s overdone,” he said. “How about a giant beer bottle, flanked by a regiment of blue martinis? With the names of all the people who did nothing engraved on ceramic olives?”
“Too costly,” we said. “How about a horseless rider?”
“How tell?”
“A guy like he’s on a horse but there ain’t no horse, get it? Just a guy up there, bouncing up and down, swinging a freakin’ sword in the air and nothing under him. The image is perfect. It captures our frustration. It would keep people from having nervous breakdowns.”
“How do you do that? There’s the law of gravity.”
“You bureaucrats have no imagination. We put a man on the moon.  People were floating around all day in them space capsules. We can certainly put a horseless rider up there. Helium. We have a friend in Florida who has a company – Helium Is Our High. He can figure it out. All these kids would love it.“
The secretary had to break off for a lunch date, and he left saying he did not know what he could do to remedy this remiss, but he promised he wouldn’t do nothing. We also serve who only stand and wait.

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