Yesterday was Veterans Day.
Because the holiday falls on Saturday, many enjoyed a day off Friday. For the great majority it was just another day at the office. That’s too bad. From my perspective, there has never been a better time to have a national discussion about our military.
For the past few months, our attention has been focused on the debate about the national anthem. My opinion and $2.29 gets you a decaf grande at Starbucks. Today I choose to write about our military in a different vein because my opinion about the anthem controversy is irrelevant.
Many of you have shown your disgust by turning off the TV on Sunday afternoons. I beat you to it. My boycott began two years ago and has nothing to do with the national anthem. I flipped the switch when the league moved the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles in a move that would have made Willie Sutton proud. Commissioner Roger Goodell and his billionaire buddies held St. Louis hostage with no intent of giving them a chance to save their team. I have zero interest in professional football.
As we celebrate Veterans Day, let’s turn our attention to what’s important - the men and women who serve our country. While America continues to debate the whole national anthem issue, let’s remember there are still soldiers who put their life in harm’s way. These are the people who deserve our attention.
Congress felt the same way in 1938 when they created Armistice Day – an opportunity to honor the veterans of WWI. Americans called WWI the “war to end all wars." Oh, were that the case. Since that first observance in 1938 America has fought in many other wars including WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 1954, Congress changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all veterans of foreign conflicts.
Regulars readers of my column know of my great love and respect for my father, Guy Wharton. Dad, who passed away in 2004, was 30 years old and married with two little children when he was drafted into the Army in WWII. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and spent over a year in military hospitals.
My brother Guy Jr. (a.k.a. Butch) was drafted and fought in the Vietnam War. Not until his death did our family know that Butch more likely than not was a member of special forces in Vietnam. He wasn’t the same big brother when he returned from there.
My brother-in-law, Bob, also served our country in Korea and spent time away from his family in Illinois before he married my sister, Marilyn.
What about me, you ask? That’s an interesting story. I was born in 1952 and became part of our country’s draft lottery as a 19-year old college student at Southern Illinois University. Here’s how I describe the lottery to millennials. Picture the Power Ball drawing every Saturday night. Replace those numbered balls with 366 balls - each one of them a day of the year. Those with birthdays that were chosen early were likely to be drafted. Those chosen late were off the hook.
I, along with all my draft-age roommates, were glued to the TV on lottery day in 1972. November 22 was the 93rd number pulled from the big glass bowl. That year, Uncle Sam drafted all the way to 95. Fort Leonard Wood, here I come. Fortunately, I could finish my education. To the shock of a nation, President Nixon announced on Jan. 27, 1973, that he was ending the draft and going to an all-volunteer army.
Even though I never served, there’s nothing that makes me prouder than to think of men and women who did step up and pledge allegiance to their country. There are heroes all around us. My dad, my brother Butch, my brother-in-law Bob, my father-in-law Lawrence, WWII veterans Michael Furlich and Bill Merrill, my neighbor Ben Uhl, and so many others who I wish I could mention in a 750-word essay.
I still remember those words spoken to my sisters and I at our dad’s funeral.
“On behalf of a grateful nation we offer our nation’s flag as a symbol of the faithful and honorable service of Guy Wharton, Sr.”
To our veterans everywhere, deceased and living, thank you for your unselfish service to our country. We honor you.
Happy Veterans Day.
Next week: Steve Warnstadt
Jim Wharton, of Sioux City, is a former member of the Sioux City Council and a former mayor of Sioux City. He and his wife, Beverly, have one daughter, Dr. Laura Giese, and three grandchildren.