Vaughn C. Hardacker here: What is it about veterans that make non-vets say: “I almost joined…”? I can’t count the times people have said this to me. When my daughter’s first father-in-law learned that I was a Marine vet and had served in Vietnam, he said that. The only comment I could think of at that time was: “Well, you didn’t miss anything.”
I was wrong. He did miss a lot. For most of my generation, the military was where our childhood and naive way of viewing life came to an end. I recall my first night at Parris Island (Talk about culture shock!). I sat in a barber chair and told the barber “Just take a little off the top.” He didn’t say a word as he ran the clippers along the center of my hair. Thirty seconds later I sat on the floor (or the deck as I was soon to learn) in a sport coat, shirt, and tie with a bald head. The first thought that entered my mind was “These people don’t care what you think.”
Prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps, I was a mouthy, wiseass (probably haven’t changed all that much either) and in the next three months, (eight weeks at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina, followed by four at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) I learned a valuable lesson, although I haven’t always adhered to it: It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. If nothing else the Marine Corps impressed two things on me. (1) To be responsible for my actions and (2) nothing in this world is free–not even freedom.
This blog will post on November 11, 2021. It was on this date in 1919 the armistice ending WWI was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It remained Armistice Day until 1954, Congress passed the bill that President Eisenhower signed proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day. Many people seem to misunderstand the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The latter is to commemorate the sacrifice American Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen made when they gave their lives for this country and for us. Veterans Day is for everyone who served.
I have been asked to be the keynote speaker at the Maine Veterans Cemetery in Caribou on Veterans Day. I usually try to ad-lib my way through this sort of thing, but I thought about it and realized this was an honor and not a chore. I spoke with Roger Felix, Post commander at the Caribou VFW, who had asked me to speak and asked what should I speak about? He said: “What about freedom isn’t free?” I immediately realized that was a very appro pro topic.
You may think that the phrase has been used so much that it has become a cliche (and we authors know that they should be viewed as lazy writing and be avoided), yet it is the truth. I believe that we have lost sight of the basic fact that everything has to be earned. Look at where our society is today. The current generation seems to feel they are entitled to everything they want. Even our government uses the word entitlement freely. They consider social security and medicare to be government entitlements–wait a minute! Our generation (the baby boomers) is the first to have paid into social security for our entire working lives–we paid for it and earned it, not entitled to it. Veterans hear this too. Military retirement is an entitlement, even though you worked for salaries lower than the private sector, endured separations from your family, and either stood ready to go to war or did go. VA pensions are an entitlement, even though you only received compensation for illnesses and injuries that are directly linked to your service. I believe that even these so-called entitlements have a price. That price is freedom. The message being sent is simple: “Give me the power to control you and I will give you… I believe that not even $600.oo dollars on top of unemployment and more food stamps than your family can use in a month is too high a price. It is also apparent to me that the people who make freedom-restricting rules also make themselves exempt from them.
So, you may ask what is an entitlement? How about a government handout that makes it financially stupid for you to return to work for less money than unemployment pays? How about demanding the government pay for your college? What about the generations of people who paid back their student loans for years? Aren’t they entitled to some or all of that money back?
Are we entitled to freedom? I would argue no, we are not. We have to earn it. Our country exists because our forefathers paid for freedom from a tyrannical king with their blood and lives. The people of Europe are not universally speaking German because two times men stood up and paid the price for freedom from tyranny. This is by no means a new struggle. It has gone on since men decided to be different from one another. Different countries (tribes), different languages, how about different skin color? So long as there are people on Earth who want to dominate, control, and enslave other people we will need people who didn’t almost join. The next time you pass a cemetery and see all those flags on veteran graves pause for a moment and say: Thank you for joining. The next time you pass a veteran and say: Thank you for your service, mean it…don’t just be saying another platitude. Maybe you might say: Thank you for not almost joining.