Memorial Day comes again, freighted with whatever significance it has for each of us. Two weeks ago I was attending the 50th reunion of my class at West Point. On the day of a memorial service for our deceased classmates news appeared that Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Attorney General and senate candidate, who has over the years alluded to his service in Vietnam, was never, in fact, there.
About 20 percent of those of us who graduated from the Military Academy in 1960 are now dead. Most died of heart attacks, strokes, and other prosaic depredations of aging men. Twelve of our number, however, died in Vietnam and they hold a special place in our hearts. One of us, Nick Rowe, was held prisoner by the Viet Cong for five years before escaping, only to be assassinated by communist rebels 21 years later in the Philippines. We're a little sensitive about those who took pains to avoid going to that war and now claim that they were there.
It might be argued that as professional soldiers it was our obligation to participate in whatever conflict our political leaders of the moment deemed necessary. We knew that this is what we had been trained for (at public expense) and there were few among us who did not feel that it was our duty to fight when asked. The fact that there were many segments of society that did not value our service, even scorned it, was unfortunate and is in vivid contrast with the adulation with which members of the current generation of soldiers, fighting wars similar to ours, are treated. (The rationale for all the nation's wars is, of course, "freedom," though whose is sometimes hard to discern.)
Anyway, the fictional wartime service of Mr. Blumenthal, meant to exploit the trend toward honoring combat veterans, is especially offensive in the way of those who purchase valor medals on the Internet and make up stories to justify them. Consciously or unconsciously all of us reinvent portions of our past to comport with the image of ourselves that we wish to carry into the future. Many of our childhood memories, for example, are different from those of others who were there. To intentionally lie, however, for political or financial gain undermines the trust in each other that is essential for a civilized society.
Another form of this misrepresentation is hypocrisy of the sort demonstrated recently by the very publicly homophobic George Rekers, co-founder of the Family Research Council, who was discovered to have traveled to Europe with a companion obtained on Rentboy.com. Or Congressman and evangelical Christian Mark Souder who was having an affair with the staff member who interviewed him in a YouTube video about the importance of abstinence education.
So what can be learned from this litany of falsification and hypocrisy? Though there are 227 valor awards and 80 Purple Hearts among us, as I talked to my West Point classmates at our reunion, there were a lot of reminiscences but few war stories. It is as if we had discovered with age that what was lasting and valuable was not what we had achieved as soldiers or civilians, nor was it what people, apart from our families, thought of us. The measures of success in our lives were our marriages and our children and grandchildren, to whom we dedicated the reunion with these words: "We hope that our stories will inspire them in whatever way they choose to make this a better nation in a safer world. We love them and wish for them the same happiness that they have already given us. Our immortality is in their hearts."
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