Vietnam Vet to America: Stick Veterans Day Where The Sun Don't Shine
Hair Balls called him at his home in the Hill Country, seeking elaboration. Collins, the Austin contact for Vietnam Veterans Against the War and also a more general veteran's advocate, said he was stirred into action by a recent commentary by World War II veteran Andy Rooney, in which the grandiosely eye-browed 60 Minutes curmudgeon decried the transformation of Veteran's Day.
When the holiday was first conceived, Rooney remembered, it was known as Armistice Day, and it celebrated the end of World War I, the so-called "War to End All Wars."
"America was persuaded to join in that war by being told that there would be no more wars after that one," says Collins.
Today, Rooney contended, Veteran's Day is little more than a celebration of militarism and war. He wants to re-brand Veteran's Day as "No War Day," and Collins supports that view.
And not just because he believes Veteran's Day celebrates militarism. He also believes that its celebration is an insubstantial bone thrown to veterans by a government that could not care less about them the other 364 days a year.
In his commentary, he detailed the treatment of vets after each of America's wars. Soldiers in the Colonial Army were swindled out of land grants promised to them by some of the Founding Fathers. Collins says homeless and mentally ill Civil War vets were common sights in the streets of Reconstruction America. Many of them suffered from PTSD, which back then went by a name that somehow manages to be both quaint and disturbing, sort of like a Stephen King title: "soldier's nostalgia." And then there was the Bonus Army of World War I vets, whose Washington Mall encampment was smashed by a Douglas MacArthur- and George Patton-led cavalry charge in the darkest days of the Great Depression.
Collins also says that veterans of Korea and his fellow Vietnam vets have been treated very badly by the government. There has only been one exception to this rule: World War II.
"A nation terrified by the prospect of a return to the Depression conditions that preceded 'the Good War' and faced with millions of returning veterans, many from families of standing and power, delivered the GI Bill," he wrote. "That magnificent piece of legislation in a large way created the world into which I was born. I think for most folks like me, it represented what we assumed had always been the standard this nation set for care of returning warriors."
Sadly, it wasn't. "That was the anomaly," Collins tells Hair Balls.
And then there are today's veterans. Collins says that former President George W. Bush decimated an already weak and under-funded Veterans Administration, and contends that the tenure of former VA secretary Jim Nicholson was a "reign of terror." "He believed that most veterans seeking VA services were malingerers," he wrote in his commentary.
Today, Collins continues, the VA tells Iraq and Afghanistan vets, some returning from multiple combat tours, others suffering from traumatic brain injury, PTSD, depleted uranium exposure and/or plain-old amputations and spinal injuries to "wait their turn," one that is a long time in coming for nearly all and too late for too many.
"So, from where I sit," he continues, "this nation can take its Veterans Day banners, parades (from which veterans wishing to express the sentiments embodied in Armistice Day are routinely excluded) and red-banner sales of goods manufactured in China and shove it all where the sun don't shine."