Just over three years ago, I wrote a post titled “Message to America Once the Wars Are Over.” The post was about how while no country honours its war time military better than America, the country goes almost in completely the opposite direction in regards to its peacetime military. Having served in the Marines during peacetime, (1979-83), I based the the article on my own experiences. I stated how the US basically ignores and at times look upon peacetime military personnel with disdain. We were seen as druggies, criminals and welfare cheats. FFI: go back and read that post. If anything, many Americans seemed ashamed to associate with anyone serving in the military back then.
Peaceful Rampage wasn’t the only forum I posted it on as I have several other blogs in addition to this one. It was on one of these that I had one person try to explain why I was treated as such while serving in the military. His response was simply, “When I served, the US armed forces was a joke!” He even went on to point out that it was because the first half of my service had been spent during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. That could be true if not for the fact that the second half was spent during the Ronald Reagan presidency and from what I saw, there was little or no shift in attitudes towards serving and as I would find out to my dismay, recently discharged persons.
Reflecting back to that time, I have to concede that many Americans regarded its military as such during the years mentioned. My first experience of this attitude was in very early 1979, less than six months before I went in. My history teacher stated that if the Soviets attacked West Germany, they would overrun Europe in a week because we had a bunch of derelicts defending us there. He explained that the army was a joke and that the only true patriotic service was the Marines but they were cuckoo. That made me feel good about joining the Marines but I would learn different not long after I left boot camp.
Visions of those on the right side of politics are probably pointing accusing fingers at those on the left and conservatives at liberals. True, lefty-liberals tend to be the most anti-military and I did get the odd comment from such people. However, from my experiences, it was the right who were the most antagonistic towards those actively serving. These days, rednecks proudly display “Support Our Troops” on their vehicles and t-shirts or anywhere else appropriate. This wasn’t the case back then. In 1980, while on leave and visiting relatives in Central Pennsylvania, I stopped into what I now know as a redneck bar to get some beer. Some young girl made a comment about the United States Marine Corps being there and suddenly all eyes were on me. One guy just stared at me as I went into the bar and once inside, all eyes were turned on me. With my Asperger’s, that made me feel very uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be there, in spite of the fact I was serving the country. Therefore, I quickly made my purchase and left.
My redneck experience wasn’t bad, I know this. However, I do know that some of my fellow Marines had less fortunate ones. One Marine went into a redneck bar in uniform where he was bombarded with comments like, “Oh look, a boy scout!”and when he went to buy a drink, it was suggest to the bartender, “You better card him, are you sure this boy scout is old enough to drink?” Note: the legal drinking age was still 18 in most states at this time. However, he was luckier than other Marines I know of who were attacked in a redneck bar. Two of them got their own back by throwing a tear gas grenade into the bar. Rednecks might support our troops these days but they certainly didn’t between 1973-89.
While of have cited the hypocrisy of rednecks for their disdain for military personnel back then, their views weren’t too far removed from the average American. Let me share another experience. In 1981, I went to my old high school’s Thanksgiving Day football game in my dress blues. I received a lot of weird looks from people for wearing that uniform as well as a couple of mock salutes from a couple of young smart-asses. However, the one question I was asked summed it all up. Why was I wearing that uniform to a football game? My answer that I was proud of my uniform wasn’t satisfactory to some people. I can’t help thinking that if I was serving today and wore my blues to the game, I would get treated with much more respect. Then again, in 1981, people still thought the armed forces was a joke.
One popular counter to when I complained as to how I was treated while serving and in the first years after I got out was, “You didn’t have it as bad as the Vietnam Veterans.” That’s a no brainer. Of course, I didn’t get one-tenth of the crap they got and if I had worn my blues to the game ten years prior, I would have been verbally, if not physically abused. I guess I should be grateful for that but while we might not have had it nearly as bad, it doesn’t mean we had it good. I wasn’t abused for serving my country but being ignored and thought of as a joke didn’t fill me with glad feelings either. Because frankly, I know we weren’t. In fact, two years after I left the service, I once said that the United States should be invaded just so people would start respecting its military again.
I also wrote in that post three years ago that if America apologized to the Vietnam Vets every day until the last one died, it might be enough to redress the harm done to them when they served. These days, Americans realize their mistake and treat their armed forces with the respect they so richly deserve. However, I do think that while they don’t have to go near to the extreme as the Vietnam Vets, they could offer an apology to those who in the years following Vietnam, 1973-89, were willing to take three or four years out of their lives and give them to their country. They were not a joke for doing so.
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