The Bonus Army takes up camp in front of the US Capital, 1932
I was a bit of a blubberer yesterday. I was somewhat obsessed with Veteran's Day, and gravitated toward images and news stories as though they were chips and dip (I have a salt tooth, not a sweet tooth). Granted, before I was even out of bed yesterday I was feeling oddly vulnerable and weepy, so I was predisposed to get emotional about almost anything picked up by my "things that matter" radar.
The Veterans Day thing got a head start a couple of days ago when I learned about an award being given posthumously to a soldier who sacrificed his life in Afghanistan saving the lives of his platoon leader, fellow platoon members, and (if I'm remembering correctly) some civilians. The award cited the incident where he pushed his leader out of the way of bullet fire, taking the fatal hit himself. Only last week at my conference in Indianapolis I heard stories from retired military educators about how loyalty and commitment to fellow soldiers trumps loyalty to the mission. Though this was not news to me the information penetrated my being at a deeper level. The specific action of this Ft. Campbell soldier plays across my imagination as though seeing it on a screen, and his sacrifice releases from my soul a kind of grief.
I know the grief is mine, no matter what triggers it. As I write this post there is dawning awareness that it touches on my experience of camaraderie and friendship, and the gaping hole of such in my life these days. I'm also aware that issues related to justice have woven through pieces of my life in recent weeks, so stories about what I see as injustices to veterans pluck those strings. Sadly, there are lots of stories about such injustices, so my justice and vulnerability meters are resonating together to generate some interesting internal reflections.
Thanks for wading through the above to get to what I really want today's post to be about: two particular stories of injustice. I had never heard of the Bonus Army, a group of WW I veterans who marched on and established themselves in Washington to demand what was promised to them. I am indebted to NPR for airing the story last night. The fact that knowledge of this event is not a part of our nation's body of common knowledge strikes me as shameful. Go here to read about it (I can't possibly do it justice here in brief). The Bonus Army is from another era, and although it will inspire anger it led, ultimately, to the G.I. Bill (which might be considered a form of justice, I admit. The story is still dreadful). The other story about denying veterans a gift given for them in Los Angeles was broadcast earlier this morning on CNN. This story renews my animosity toward greed--as though any of us need any assistance in that arena these days--but it also rekindles my sense of helplessness when I want to take action to redress a wrong. At least others are making an attempt to do so.
There are implications in these stories, and others, about our collective failure to deliver what is promised and to honor the contract executed by those who respond to the call to serve. Again and again our leaders break those contracts, violating the trust and faith that all of us are impelled to place in their hands. For too long we have stood by and watched the disintegration of that which we so proudly hail, failing to hold our leaders accountable. It is past time to step up and speak up, and to stand with those whose lives and memories have been betrayed.
To paraphrase Tim Gunn, "Make It Happen." Let's figure out a way, together, to do that.