My Changing Views of Veterans Day

Continuing our salute to America's military service men and women, commentator Clarence Page reflects on how the meaning of Veteran's Day has changed for him. Page is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Chicago Tribune.

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ED GORDON, host:

As we continue our salute to America's military servicemen and women, commentator Clarence Page reflects on how the meaning of Veterans' Day has changed for him.

CLARENCE PAGE:

It's Veterans' Day. I'm a veteran. I just want to celebrate another day of living. I was part of the last group of American youths to get drafted. Lucky me. I served. I didn't think the Vietnam War was worth it at the time, but I served. I didn't want to go to jail or Canada. I thought, among other things, that it would be a slap at the many unsung black veterans who served in every war America has ever fought. We've earned our place in this country, with our blood. I wasn't about to leave it.

As it turned out, I missed combat anyway. I consider myself fortunate, but nobody can say I didn't pay my dues. Now it's somebody else's turn.

Veterans' Day means more to me than it used to, now that we've gone back to war in Iraq. I used to think that Vietnam taught Americans to think real hard before getting involved in some other country's civil war. I thought wrong. Here we go again. We don't have a draft today, so you really have to hand it to the young men and women who serve anyway, laying down their lives and limbs on the line, whether out of sheer patriotism, a sense of national service or a need to find a job or college money.

Early in the Vietnam War, there were complaints about the disproportionate number of poor black kids on the front line, taking the most casualties. The Pentagon quietly but forcefully worked to even that out. Today you only hear about the disproportionate number of poor kids on the front line. As the war rages on, two-thirds of new recruits are coming from rural counties, with high poverty and unemployment. New Pentagon figures show only 14 percent come from major cities.

When the need for jobs outweighs the risk for war, a jobless economy becomes a draft in itself. People use the phrase `Support our troops,' as if to say we should blindly support whatever military adventure the politicians and deep thinkers in Washington want to get us into. But those who fight for freedom and democracy are not seeking blind support from us, the folks back home. We ask a lot of our military servicemen and women. We ask them to lay down their lives and limbs to keep us safe. We ask them to keep watch so the rest of us can sleep better. They don't ask much in return, but they do ask us to watch their backs. They ask us to think real hard before sending them off to battle. They ask us for reassurance that their sacrifices are not in vain.

So if you see a veteran today, say, `Thanks.' It might help you sleep better tonight.

GORDON: Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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