Memorial Day is over, but writing about America’s veterans doesn’t have an expiration date.
My dad, George, was as proud a veteran as you’d meet. He served in the Army in World War II and loved our country no less than the next veteran. I am proud of him, as is my brother, Robert, who served in the Air Force.
Growing up, the one vacation we took each year was spent with Dad’s U.S. Army buddies from the 47th Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division. The 9th held a summer reunion in various cities where it had an active chapter. Dad was a staff sergeant and, until his last day, 20 years ago, at age 84, his comrades in arms affectionately called him “Sarge.”
In the days before air travel was commonplace, we went by car to every one of my dad’s World War II Army reunions. I loved the road trip adventures, the destinations, and the camaraderie of the events, which connected me forever to my father’s proud military heritage.
We motored one year to Chicago, where, as a 5-year-old, I was introduced by the host of the popular national radio show “Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club” as “The Boy of 1,000 Voices” (a trick my brother played on me by submitting my “special talent” on a card, which the show requested of the audience before it went on the air).
Other summers, the reunion city was Detroit, where I loved seeing the historical theme park Greenfield Village in Dearborn; Springfield, Ill., birthplace of Abe Lincoln, where then-Gov. Otto Kerner, a 9th Infantry veteran, was the dinner keynoter; and the largest U.S. Army installation in the world at Fort Bragg, N.C., which this September commemorates its centennial.
One year, the 9th Infantry families were invited to the graduation ceremonies at West Point by the military academy’s superintendent—who himself was a 9th Infantryman—Gen. William C. Westmoreland.
I got to retrieve one of the cool cadet hats that are flung in the air in euphoric unison at the commencement ceremony’s climax. I cherished that collectible for years (and wish I knew what happened to it).
As we were leaving the marching grounds where West Point commencement takes place, a voice rang out, “George!” We turned around and, larger than life, standing there was General Westmoreland, the patrician-looking professional soldier out of central casting who went on to become the commander of America’s troops in Vietnam and chief of staff of the U.S. Army.
When I look back, I was a lucky kid to have such a cool dad. Sure, sometimes he could be a little gruff, but underneath his Old World disciplinarian bark beat a soft and generous heart. We were solidly middle-class. He made a decent living as a hosiery salesman and did all he could for his three sons (our eldest brother, Stephen, passed in 1973) to give us what children of the Depression like him never had.
Here’s the thing: None of my respect and adoration for my dad, or for his service to our country, meant that I was obliged to see the world exactly as he did. He didn’t expect me to. I could disagree with my dad without disrespecting him or his military service. One has nothing to do with the other.
Service to country is above reproach. Whether a soldier continues in uniform or re-enters civilian life, we never stop honoring that service, as well as acts of bravery and special commendations earned, such as Purple Hearts.
At the same time, our respect doesn’t invest that person with infallible opinions that cannot be challenged. We can agree that the duty performed by a veteran, and the sacrifices made, are sacred. The same person’s views—on politics, patriotism, or other topics—are opinion, not gospel.
My dad, bless him, had generosity of spirit and an open mind. When he offered an opinion, including his decidedly dovish views on the Vietnam War, he did not presume to speak for all soldiers or all veterans. Like the rest of us, whether we served our country in uniform or not, when he spoke, he spoke for himself.
That’s why when I hear one of our brave veterans speak publicly about something fraught with political overtones, often involving the American flag, national anthem, or Pledge of Allegiance, I can totally respect who they are without appreciating the tone of their sentiments, which can sound threatening and demonizing.
When someone who nobly served our country, as did my father, says something like, “What [so-and-so] did disrespects every soldier who ever put on a uniform,” that person presumes to put words in other mouths, which is unfortunate and unnecessary. Speak for yourself, please; not for humankind.
With that in mind, when a public comment like the above is being delivered, I respectfully request that a disclaimer be inserted along the following lines…
“I’d like to say what [so-and-so] did disrespects every soldier, but I honestly cannot speak for at least one soldier, George Apar, because I never knew him, and so I posthumously honor the late Sergeant Apar’s freedom of speech by simply saying that what [so-and-so] did disrespects me.”
Thank you for honoring that request, and thank you, as ever, for your service.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.