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Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado

It's Always
The Soldier

Commentary by your Webmaster
C. Douglas Sterner
November 1, 2002


I've often been lauded for my tendency to avoid the limelight and pass credit for my many projects to others.  My motivation in this is not a sense of humility nor a noble one...it is a matter of self-preservation.  I've frequently stated that "Once you become recognized and people know who you are, you become a moving target."  A sad fact of life in American society is that Today's hero is tomorrow's villain.

Americans love a success story...poor boy makes good...for it reminds us that America is the Land of Opportunity--a place where any common man or woman can achieve beyond their wildest dreams.  But once the success story is told, we tend to thrive on the scandal that brings our heroes back down to earth.  If the average man is arrested for DUI or family violence, it is scarcely noted in the media.  But let an American hero make such a mistake and it becomes front page news.  

The men who have worn the Medal of Honor are true heroes, not by choice...simply by virtue of doing their job and doing it well.  None of them asked to receive the medal or chose to become an American icon, it was a role that was thrust on them by events beyond their control and a strong inner character to rise to the need of the moment.  Once the Medal is placed around their neck, their life is forever changed.  They are forced by that role to lead a life of example that most ordinary people could never endure.  Medal of Honor recipients live in glass houses...their actions watched by all, any miss-step quickly broadcast.  It doesn't take a researcher long to discover that in addition to being true heroes, some Medal of Honor recipients have had brushes with the wrong side of the law, served prison time, or even been killed in post-war life while committing a felony.  It has always been the policy of HomeOfHeroes.com to focus only on the positive that these great men have done, not to sensationalize their human errors.  The fact is, in any segment of society, there will be those who have problems adjusting to normal society.

I say all this to illustrate a similar situation common to all Veterans in general.  During the recent hunt for the Washington, DC area sniper, news media conjecture repeatedly looked for a military connection to the killer.  When at last a suspect was captured, the military connection became the focal point of a society that loves the military man when he is fighting on foreign soil, but quickly turns against him when he comes home.

With 25 million veterans in our American society, they comprise a large segment of our populace.  As such, it is inevitable that there will be those who are evil men.  Why then, when one (or more) runs afoul, is our society so quick to judge all war veterans and suspect them of being capable of horrible acts.

Is it because the war veteran is well trained in the use of firearms?  Peace-time soldiers, police officers, and others receive the same kind of training but are usually not as suspect as the war veteran when bad things are happening.

Is it because the war veteran has become desensitized to death and suffering?  Quite the opposite, most who have served in a combat zone struggle to forget the horrors they have witnessed, and seek to avoid anything that stirs that memory anew.

In the decades following the war in Vietnam, Vietnam Vets were suspect in many segments of society.  I recall moving into one community a few years ago where a neighbor would not let his children play with mine when he learned that I was a Vietnam Veteran.  For some strange reason, he assumed that my service to my country made me unstable, a threat to the community...a man capable of going ballistic at any time with no warning or reason (and this 30 years after I came home from Vietnam).  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Vietnam Veterans are now America's aging warriors of decades past, and we have passed the responsibility to defend freedom to a new generation of Americans.  Little more than ten years ago, this new generation proved their courage and dedication during one of the greatest military victories in history.  In little more than a month they defeated the forces of Iraq to free Kuwait of an invading army.  I, for one, am proud of the new generation of soldiers who took up where we left off.

The success of the Desert Storm campaign, and the patriotic reception to which our soldiers returned, caused many to hope that the cynicism and suspicion that had been heaped upon the Vietnam Veteran was now a thing of the past.  Sadly, when there is a sensational story however, it is the soldier of any generation that becomes suspect.

Earlier this week I logged on to see the screen at right with my AOL logon.  The message broke my heart when I saw three photos and a headline that read:

What Links These Men?
McVeigh, Muhammed, Flores
Are Veterans of Gulf War

There is no subtlety to the message...one that tells AOL subscribers that the problems in America, the threat to our National Security, is a direct result of military service in the Persian Gulf.  To compound the travesty...this was during the week in which we celebrate military service over Veterans Day.

Would it not be more appropriate for AOL and other media outlets to display the pictures of 19 men who killed thousands of Americans, beneath a headline that reads:

What Links These Men?
They are Islamic, They are Saudi Arabian, they are Illegal Aliens

But that will never happen...it would be politically incorrect.

 

As a Vietnam Veteran I've resolved in my own heart, my sadness at the disrespect and suspicion heaped upon myself and my fellow Vietnam Veterans.  We are older now, most of us are grandfathers, and we don't seem to be a threat any longer worthy of suspicion.  I am proud of our kids...those who fought in the Persian Gulf and did their job so well.  Alas, I am saddened that the news media, if not the general populace itself, has turned yesterday's heroes into today's villains.  But I guess that is the way of life...

These proud soldiers who defended freedom a decade ago will NOW be suspect for what they have endured until they too are old, and today's heroes become tomorrow's villains.

 

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I myself don't understand why the American veteran has to be placed in such a bad light. Especially the Vietnam veteran. This was brought to light for me as a result of reading "Stolen Valor" by B.G. Burkett. Just because certain individuals had lied about serving in Vietnam, awarding themselves medals they never earned (including, unfortunately, the Medal of Honor) and so-called veterans who rape, steal, and kill does not mean that all veterans behave like this. They do not. But unfortunately it is the major ones, the ones who either commit crimes or make a lot of noise, that make the news headlines. There are so many good, honest, and patriotic veterans who have served their country proudly that America either chooses to ignore or they don't know about. These are the people who should be brought to light; those who have served honorably and have been humbled by the experience of war. I show much more admiration and respect after reading "Stolen Valor" for the Vietnam veteran, especially for those who hold the Medal of Honor.
Tim Weiler <weilerium@msn.com >
Elgin, IL USA -

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