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Thanks for wartime service should go only to the wartime veterans
It was Veterans Day, and I was standing with a group of middle school students as historian Bill Dean talked about World War II and some of the photos and artifacts he has collected over the years. They were on display at the Northeast Georgia History Center, where busloads of students came all week long to learn something about a war many of them knew nothing about.
During a lull in the presentation, a woman who must have been a teacher stepped up and asked, “Are you a veteran?”
I said, “yes.”
She held out a handmade card of colorful poster paper, said “thank you” and walked away. The card, I noticed later, thanked me for serving in the war.
“Oh, no,” I said to myself. “I can’t keep this. I didn’t serve in any war.”
Actually, I served five and a half years in the Georgia National Guard, and the only time my unit was called up was to deliver feed to farmers during an ice storm. I missed the call-up because I was doing my six months in the Army.
So what should my card say? Perhaps: “Thanks for serving and almost getting the chance to deliver chicken feed to ice-bound farmers.”
I’m being facetious. And, believe me, I’m not selling the National Guard short. Its soldiers are well-trained — much better today than when I served — and the same armory where I trained has sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m proud of them. They went to war. I didn’t. So I found the woman who gave me the card and gave it back to her.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You served, didn’t you?” Finally, she convinced me to take a different card, one that said “thanks for serving,” but did not mention a war. I felt better.
Lord, deliver me from rewriting my history. There’s enough of that going on already:
The president of a Christian college resigned after a newspaper revealed that he never earned the master’s degree he claimed on his résumé. The head football coach at a major university did the same thing. Some politicians have boasted of wartime service that never happened. Others have taken only a grain of unpleasant truth about their opponents and built a whole nasty election campaign around it.
History is being rewritten all over the world because someone didn’t like the way it sounded. I can understand revising history when we’ve learned new facts that give an event or an era a different, more accurate perspective. But to rewrite history to suit personal beliefs is undefendable.
I’m sorry. I have stretched this point far enough. After all, it was only a sweet, innocent poster-paper card that thanked me for being a veteran, and I have launched it into a tirade about dishonesty in general.
I could have told the woman: “Please tell the student who made this card, ‘Thanks a lot.’”
But on that day, Veterans Day, I couldn’t do that.
Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.