The Unsung Veterans
Veterans Day was designed to give this great nation something to divert the masses before we had air conditioning, the Internet and Republican primary debates. Although it grew out of World War I, Veterans Day was retrofitted to include other great wars, such as the Civil War. All over the country, we honor the brave leaders who have statues of themselves on horseback.
Those statues have individuality, depending on the pose of the horse. Exactly what it meant escapes us after all these years, but it had something to do with a horse's hoof being raised if the general had been killed or wounded. If the horse were rearing, it meant the general got thrown from his mount more than once. If the horse were upside down with the general underneath, it meant either the sculptor was drunk or the general had been sacked.
The idea of monuments to remember our veterans really caught on. At Gettysburg today there are more monuments than there were soldiers in the battle. And, we think it was George Will who observed that some visitors to that national park are overheard saying the battle could not have been that bad—there are no bullet holes on the monuments. And the monuments keep coming. The Vietnam Memorial, a classic of its kind, with its stark-black wall, now has replicas, which move around the nation.
We always thought the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue in Arlington, Virginia was the appropriate monument for World War II. But it seems that such a big war deserves more. We have read that individual battles have crusaders for their own memorials. Somebody wants a monument to the Battle of the Bulge, obviously in Washington, although the battle occurred in the snows of Belgium.
This abundance of memorials is a sensitive matter to the silent majority of us who are veterans of no wars. We don't have exact figures, but almost surely for every man or woman who actually stood in harms way, there are probably 10 who wore the uniform and did nothing. No campaign ribbons decorate our uniforms. It hurts when we see some of these old guys whose entire body seems to be made up of ribbons and medals. They look like walking Christmas trees.
Over the years, there is a special kind of stress that builds up. Sometimes at church they ask veterans to stand, even come up on the altar for a special blessing. They include everybody who was ever in the service, which is a lot of people. Those who were in battles, or meaningful military situations, deserve such recognition. But as our friend W.C. says, "I'm embarrassed to stand up. I never did anything."
We wonder if it would help if some politicians with nothing to do in Washington took up the cause of the Veterans of No Wars. Why not have an impressive memorial to the millions of us who went through sometimes rigorous training, studying to be forward artillery observers, jumping out of airplanes and such, and then were sent to the reserves for eight years, where, with minor exceptions, we did nothing.
Thus we propose a memorial featuring one unit to represent all those who underserved our great nation. How about a lifesize statue, or series of statues, for the 90 or so men of the legendary 446th Civil Affairs Company, Upland, Pennsylvania, Colonel (later general) Clarence D. Bell, commanding?
To be fair, this great outfit had members who had been in the Korean War and were in the reserves to get in 20 years for retirement benefits. But most of us had slipped between wars, too young for Korea, and out of uniform by the time Vietnam heated up. Commissioned through ROTC, we got six months active duty, which was basically all training, and eight years in the reserves.
The case of the 446th is especially poignant. In a war we would have been military government (although most of us had trained for fighting roles), which meant we would come in when the shooting was over and try to put towns and countries back together. As such, we were loaded with brass; about half of us were officers, and we would actually have been pretty good at our jobs if ever called upon. Our commander was a state senator, who built his political career on getting potholes filled during northern winters. We had doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, service station owners, a Mercedes Benz dealer, an industrial relations specialist, several law enforcement types, academics and two non-war correspondents.
We were, in short, one of the finest groups of B.S. artists our great nation has produced. We were perfect for running devastated countries. Among the skills we learned was one from a labor negotiator, who taught us that when under pressure, when people were screaming for you to do something—the best stall was to light a pipe.
“There is something about a man lighting a pipe that defies interruption,” explained Captain Piatt. “You can easily waste five minutes in that process, and if you can’t think of anything to say in that time, you don’t deserve to hold your job.”
Major Gleason was a college English professor who warned us with a cackle that any man found sleeping in the barracks during work hours would be “defenestrated.” From the Latin “fenestra,” meaning “window,” and “de,” meaning “out of”—thrown out of a window.
Our nominal job was public welfare officer—whatever that meant, but in reality we handled public relations—writing newspaper columns so that the public knew what great work we weren’t doing to protect the nation. From summer camp we wrote such classics as, “The General’s Martini,” “The Night We Boiled The Major,” “The Magpie At The 202 Club” and other pieces describing our daily activities. One day, we were taking a refresher course, shooting machine guns on a range, when a deer danced across our target area. A dozen machine guns opened up trying to hit the creature, which escaped unscathed. “Can’t Anybody Here Hit That Buck?” caught the drama of the moment.
We were dedicated patriots; nobody ever quit the 446th. Alas, the government quit us. At the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (a time when young men were fleeing to Canada to avoid service), we were thrown out of the army. Our demise had been rumored for several years. Desperate efforts were made to justify our existence. At one point we were actually taught some Arabic, on the absurd premise that American forces would ever be active in the Middle East.
You can imagine the hurt. Not only did we do nothing, but also we were considered so useless that in time of war, the government sent us hiking. We have largely been forgotten, and now the boys are dying off. There ought to be something to remember us, like 90 life-sized statues in the National Mall, each in character. Captain Piatt would be the one lighting a pipe; we would be framed by a window. Horses are optional.