Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Respectful Admonition of Senator McCain

My father was a war hero. He served in the US Navy as a radar man aboard an LCT in the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean; most notably, at Anzio. He nearly lost his life on several occasions and, as one of the younger, unmarried members of the crew, was often asked to perform dangerous duty in service to the nation.

My grandfather was a war hero, too. He served as an infantryman on the killing fields of Europe during the First World War, what was then called ‘The Great War’.

They have been many heroes who put their lives on the line for the people who served with them. It can easily be asserted that each and every member of the armed services who has seen action, whether or not they were wounded, be-medaled, captured or killed, are heroes worthy of our admiration and gratitude.

As my father and my grandfather expressed it when pressed to tell their stories, they did not consider themselves heroes but simple ordinary men who managed to stay alive because of the heroic actions of their buddies. This is a most common comment made by those we consider war-time heroes.

In interviews with the surviving members of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, ‘The Screaming Eagles’, whose story was recounted in the best-selling book, ‘Band of Brothers’ by military historian, Stephen Ambrose, each and every man down-played their own part and honored those they served with. Their commanding officer, Richard D. ‘Dick’ Winters expressed this attitude of noble humility best in an interview for the HBO series. When asked if he considered himself a hero, he responded with tearful eyes, that he wasn’t a hero, but he had served in the company of heroes.

My father, like Dick Winters and many thousands of other veterans, did not crow and puff themselves up by harping about their heroics during armed conflict. They were modest men who saw themselves as unextraordinary despite the extraordinary conditions under which they served. This attitude of gracious humility is not exclusive to any specific generation; it is an unspoken code that is followed by all of the combat veterans known personally to this writer.

Meaning no disrespect to Senator McCain, for he must be counted in the company of heroes, he does not share the noble humility of Dick Winters or my father or my grandfather. Senator McCain’s unceasing, self-serving reiteration of his experiences as a POW in order to brazenly advance his political career and this presidential campaign is most distasteful.

His service should be honored as should all be honored who have laid their lives on the line for the nation and their buddies. What is objectionable is Mr McCain’s vulgar, overweening use of his experiences in Vietnam to blatantly promote himself and the agenda of the Republican Party by playing off the sympathies and pity of the public.

Former senator and presidential hopeful, George McGovern, was once asked why he hadn’t trumpeted his war-time military career during the 1968 election campaign against Richard Nixon. After all, McGovern had served during World War II as a B-24 Liberator bomber pilot in the Fifteenth Air Force, had flown 35 missions over enemy territory and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving his crew. Surely, his campaign as an anti-war candidate would have been strengthened if he had simply made the American electorate aware that he was an honest-to-god, decorated war hero. McGovern shook his head dismissively and replied, “That would have been unseemly.”

Senator McCain, end the incessant rehashing of your war stories. It’s unseemly in a hero.

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