Tag Archives: Veterans Day

Vets are bound together by common experience

I heard an interesting analysis on National Public Radio about the dysfunction that has troubled the U.S. Congress in recent years.

It is that so few members of Congress — House members and senators — are veterans. The analyst noted that today, about 20 percent of congressmen and women are veterans; that total used to be around 70 percent.

Do you see where this is going?

We’re about to celebrate Veterans Day and I thought that observation was worth noting as a way to suggest that military service has contributed to a better-functioning Congress than what we have today.

I think of the World War II veterans who came home from completing their mission to save the world from tyranny. They went about rebuilding their lives. Some of them chose careers in public service. The ran for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. They won and were thrown together on Capitol Hill.

They forged partnerships and friendships. They had a common bond. Their friendship crossed the partisan divide. Democrats and Republicans all had been to battle. They all had fought a common enemy.

Congressional lore is full of legendary friendships that bridged that partisan divide: Republican Bob Dole and Democrat Daniel Inouye; Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat John F. Kennedy; Republican Barry Goldwater and Democrat George McGovern. These men were political opponents, but they each respected each other. They had earned their mutual respect because of their service in defense of the nation they all loved.

The Vietnam War produced a similar bond among brothers. Republican John McCain and Democrat John Kerry became good friends during their time in the U.S. Senate. They worked together to craft a normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Republican Chuck Hagel returned from ‘Nam to serve in the Senate, along with Democrat Bob Kerrey.

The Vietnam War generation, along with the World War II and the Korean War generation, contributed mightily to a government that actually worked.

That kind of camaraderie appears to be missing today. Yes, Congress is sprinkled with vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. They, too, belong to both major political parties. I don’t sense that they have yet made their mark on the larger governing body. Perhaps it will come in due course.

The veterans who have served first in the military and then in both chambers of Congress have done demonstrated the value of common experience. It translates into political comity and collegiality … a lot more of which we can use today.

Hoping we don’t pervert Veterans Day

The nation is going to celebrate Veterans Day soon.

There will be parades, speeches, statements of gratitude and expressions of pride and thanks for those who have served in the military.

Our oldest veterans are in their 90s now. They saved the nation from tyranny. Those who answered the call in the decades since World War II also served to protect our national rights and liberty and the aspects that make this country so unique and special among the roster of nations around the world.

Of late, we’ve seen a perversion of what we’ve all sought to honor and salute. I was one of those vets who spent some time in the Army. My country sent me to Vietnam during a much different time, when we weren’t so grateful for the service performed by those of us who did our duty.

We all served to protect our special liberties. They include the right to protest our government policies. That right is protected stringently by the U.S. Constitution. The perversion has come from those who have castigated U.S. citizens who happen to be profession athletes; those athletes have chosen to protest certain government policies by “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of sporting events.

Even the president of the United States has weighed in, saying those athletes are “disrespecting” the flag, the nation and those who served the nation in the military.

I beg to differ with the president. There’s no disrespect being shown toward any of what’s been described. As a veteran, I take not one ounce of personal affront to those who kneel to express their political point of view.

Indeed, I believe we all served to guarantee them the right to do what they have done … and continue to do.

So, as we prepare to honor our veterans yet again this year, let us be mindful of the rights we have and of the Americans who have fought — and died — to guarantee we can exercise them without fear of recrimination.

Vets get fitting honor with highway loop

loop

Every year at this time, veterans from around the Texas Panhandle gather at the Randall County Courthouse Annex.

They slap each other on the back, some reminisce about common experiences in the military. Those who had served in war zones compare notes, swap stories and thank each other for their service.

They sit in front of the Texas Panhandle War Memorial and hear speeches and proclamations and expressions of thanks from elected officials.

Today, though, they also heard during the Veterans Day ceremony about a worthy dedication.

Loop 335, a 43-mile thoroughfare that encircles Amarillo, has been named Veterans Highway. Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell and Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner spoke about that dedication.

I am grateful that the loop now honors those who served their country.

There once was a time when I thought Loop 335 would provide a fitting memorial to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wrote something to that effect in a column many years ago. I still want the community honor Dr. King in such a fashion someday and I hope that comes to pass.

Loop 335, given that it circles the city, holding it together, provides a fitting way to honor whomever the city and the counties through it travels choose.

The western-most segment of the loop, of course, will be extended beyond Soncy, which has become just another busy street in Amarillo. The state has begun expansion work on the southern portion of the loop to ensure that it remains free of the congestion that clogs Soncy.

Now the thoroughfare honors veterans as it carries the name Veterans Highway.

This veteran thanks the city and the two counties for their actions to honor those who’ve answered the call to duty.

 

Dear Dad: You made me proud

Veterans-Day2

I’ve written before about my favorite veteran.

He was my late father, Peter John Kanelis, a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy who survived the horrifying crucible of World War II.

I wrote the first time about his service two years ago.

Dad saw the bulk of his combat in the Mediterranean Sea, engaging in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He endured relentless bombing and strafing by the Luftwaffe, had the ship on which he served sunk by an Italian dive bomber, and was credited with shooting down a Juncker JU-88 German bomber while manning a .50-caliber deck gun during the Sicilian campaign.

He told me of a time he was standing guard while on shore patrol in Tunisia and he shot to death someone who had breached his unit’s perimeter. Was it an enemy soldier? No, Dad said. It was a local guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Dad was like almost all World War II vets in this regard: He didn’t volunteer much about his experiences during that war. Oh, he’d talk about it if someone asked. And yes, I asked him about those days. We talked often while I was growing up.

I learned about how he joined the Navy just a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, how he went through an abbreviated boot camp in San Diego as the U.S. War Department sought to get mobilized in a hurry and how he learned his seamanship skills aboard ship while steaming to Great Britain.

Mom would tell me that Dad suffered for a time upon his return from the war from a form of shell shock — which they now call “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

It would manifest itself, Mom said, when Dad would hear the sound of an airplane. He’d flinch and look up, she said. All that constant bombardment made Dad quite jumpy when he heard the sound of aircraft overhead.

He got past that period of his life.

He intended to be join the Marine Corps the day he enlisted. As luck would have it, the USMC office was closed that day; he walked across the hall and joined the Navy. I believe he would have made as good a Marine as he was a sailor.

But to be honest, I’m grateful Dad was spared the task of potentially having to storm ashore amid a hail of enemy bullets.

His Navy duty was rough enough.

Dad’s been gone for 35 years. This much hasn’t dimmed one single bit as the nation prepares to commemorate Veterans Day: I’m as proud of my father’s service to his country now as I was when I first learned about it.

What a difference two generations make

Al Sharpton’s TV show is rumbling in the background in my home office.

Then he introduced an upcoming segment about ensuring how to find jobs for “our troops.”

Something curious occurs to me. Sharpton is a noted progressive/liberal. I’ve spoken already to the way America has changed its attitude toward veterans and military personnel during the past two generations.

Given that I don’t know Sharpton, nor can I read his mind or peer into his soul, I’ll ask the question with some caution: Would this particular progressive talk-show host have this discussion during the Vietnam War, when many Americans were (a) turning their backs on returning veterans or (b) spitting in their faces?

He would say that he never did those things back in the old days. A lot of liberals did, however.

They’ve changed. I hear many liberal and progressive commentators on the air say much the same thing that Sharpton said today. They want to honor our veterans and those who are fighting for our freedom.

I’m glad the country has changed its attitude. I also am happy to hear progressives talk about jobs programs for veterans, calling on Americans to honor them by employing them when they return from the battlefield.

It wasn’t always this way.

 

Have a great day, fellow veterans

Younger readers of this blog might not remember this little tidbit.

There once was a time in this country when being a veteran wasn’t something to be honored or celebrated. Oh sure, many millions of Americans did honor veterans. Many millions of others, though, chose to scorn those who wore the uniform.

It happened during the turbulent decade of the 1960s. The Vietnam War was being fought. It split this country apart. Hawks vs. doves. War mongers vs. peaceniks. Conservatives vs. Liberals.

Some of us found ourselves caught in the middle of all this.

It wasn’t a pretty time. It was ugly.

Veterans Day parades drew protests from those who opposed the Vietnam War. Some of these protests turned ugly, even violent.

Perhaps the most reprehensible element of all was that Americans threw their greatest scorn at the service personnel who simply were doing their duty. They were ordered to go to war and they followed those orders, did what they were told to do and returned home to a nation that didn’t salute them. Their fellow Americans turned their backs on them.

Full disclosure. I was one of those veterans who spent some time serving my country. A little bit of that time was spent in Vietnam. I didn’t get spit on or cursed at when I returned home, as happened to some veterans. I returned and resumed a quiet life.

The good news would come later.

Americans realized the error of their ways. It happened about the time of the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. We went to war yet again to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait after the dictator Saddam Hussein invaded that country and captured its immense oil wealth. President Bush said the invasion “will not stand.” We bombed the daylights out of the Iraqis and then sent in in 500,000 or so mostly American forces to kick the Iraqis out.

The job was over in a few days.

Those returning vets came home to parades, music, banners, “Welcome Home” signs. They returned to a nation that had restored its pride in those who don the uniform.

That pride continues to this day. Even though some of us have criticized the policies that took us to war in Iraq yet again in 2003, Americans never again — I hope — will blame the warrior for doing his or her lawful duty.

This veteran is grateful that our country has learned once again to express its thanks.

Silver lining in VA scandal?

You know, there might be a glimmer peeking through the dark cloud covering the Department of Veterans Affairs.

It well might be that the still-growing scandal over veterans’ health care can remind Americans of why on Monday we celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day, which we’ll commemorate this coming November.

It is to honor the heroes who have died in battle and to put the needs of ailing veterans at the top of our national priority list.

The editorial link from my hometown newspaper, The Oregonian, spells it out quite nicely.

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/05/put_veterans_first_this_memori.html

Memorial Day has become a time for backyard barbecues, trips to the park with the kids, watching sports on TV or heading to the stadium to see it in person. That’s all fine.

It’s also a time for reflection. Shouldn’t we take time to reflect on those who aren’t here to enjoy these activities because they, well, died in defense of our country?

As for the VA scandal, the revelations that have come to light should enlighten us about the struggles many of our veterans encounter as they seek medical care.

The president of the United States has made a solemn vow to get to the root of what happened at the Phoenix VA hospital where an estimated 40 vets died awaiting health care. Let’s hope he finds those answers and then acts decisively and promptly to correct what has gone so horribly wrong for far too long.

What can the rest of us do? Just keep our veterans — particularly those who are ailing and who depend on the VA to care for them — in our thoughts and prayers.

And be sure to offer a word of thanks.

That was some vets’ ‘reunion’

I have just come home from a reunion of sorts.

I didn’t know anyone else there, but it seemed like we were all brothers and sisters. An Amarillo restaurant treated veterans and active-duty military personnel to free meals tonight in honor of Veterans Day. My wife, Kathy, told me about it this morning. We decided to go, given that I’m an Army veteran. I thought it was a nice gesture on Golden Corral’s part to give us a free meal.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite prepared for what we saw when we got there.

The line was backed up to the door. We walked in. A gentleman was handing out stickers that said “I Served.” He asked Kathy, “Are you a veteran?” She pointed back to me and said, “He is.” I reached for my wallet to produce my Veterans Administration identification card to prove my veteran status. “I don’t need it,” the man said. “I believe you.”

I looked up and down the lengthy line that twisted back from the serving area. All these men and a few women were wearing military gear of some fashion: t-shirts inscribed with some branch of the service; ball caps denoting Vietnam War veterans, Iraq War and Afghanistan War veterans, vets from the various armed forces. I noticed a couple of quite elderly gentlemen I guessed to be either Korean War or World War II veterans.

One young former Marine wore a t-shirt that said: “Marines: Making it safe for the Army.” I wanted to remind the young man about a saying we had in Vietnam, which was that “The Army did all the fighting, the Marines got all the glory, and the Navy and the Air Force got all the money.”

I chose not to possibly spoil the moment.

I heard couples exchanging histories with each other. Where did you serve? When? Did you go to such-and-such?

Perhaps the most interesting veteran was a Vietnam War Marine adorned in his dress blues. He was a corporal. His uniform jacket had all the requisite Vietnam War ribbons on it. I was amazed he could still get into his uniform. Good for him.

It was quite a party tonight at the Golden Corral, which was one of several eating establishments in Amarillo that honored our veterans.

I want to thank them all and not just for tonight’s gesture of good will and generosity.

They deserve thanks for echoing the nation’s renewed spirit of gratitude for those who answered the call to duty. America didn’t always honor its vets in this manner. Vietnam veterans know what I mean.

Thank you for making us feel special.

 

Tribute to my favorite veteran

On this Veterans Day, I thought I’d pay tribute to someone who served his country with honor during its darkest moment.

I got the idea from a local radio station which on Monday is going to field phone calls from listeners talking about their “favorite veteran.” I’ll forgo that call and just write it here.

His name was Peter John Kanelis. He was my father. Dad was a proud World War II veteran.

He told me the story about how he found his way into the U.S. Navy.

Dad was anxious to get into the fight shortly after the Japanese navy and air force attacked our military installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. That attack occurred on Dec. 7, 1941. Dad was enrolled at the University of Portland in Oregon, where he lived with my grandparents and his six siblings — two brothers and four sisters.

It was in February 1942 that he decided to enlist. He went downtown — to the Marine Corps office. The door was locked. He walked across the hall and enlisted in the Navy on the spot.

As I recall the way Dad told the story, he didn’t have to wait long before shipping out. He went to San Diego, Calif., for three weeks of basic training. The Navy then put him on a ship and he steamed for England. He would learn seamanship skills along the way.

Dad ended up serving in three combat campaigns in the Mediterranean theater: North Africa, Sicily and the Italian mainland. He fought hard. An Italian dive bomber blew up Dad’s ship during the battle for Sicily. He was picked up fairly quickly by a British ship.

It was during the Italian mainland invasion that Dad endured 105 consecutive days of aerial bombardment from the German Luftwaffe. He told me he lost a considerable amount of weight during that time, eating mainly fruit.

Dad continued his service for the next several weeks as the Allies fought to secure Italy. Then he came back to the United States for a time. He enrolled in an officer training program at Dartmouth College, but didn’t make the cut.

He then was shipped to the Philippines, where he was staging for a likely invasion of Japan.

President Harry Truman then ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The war ended. Dad came home, married my mother and I came along three years later. My sisters would round out our family eventually.

Dad died much too early in his life. He was just 59 when he perished 33 years ago in a boating accident. Mom fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease; she was just 61 when she died four years later.

Dad’s service during World War II was not uniquely heroic. He merely did what millions of other Americans did. He answered the call to service when his country needed him. Those of us who came along owe everything to the 16 million young men and women who served during that horrible time.

My father was one of them. That’s why he is my favorite veteran.