Letters: ‘This man’s Army’
A veteran recently expressed his objection regarding the act of kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. I appreciate and respect his opinion. I also respectfully disagree.
I had an imaginary discussion on this point with my late father, a veteran. He fought at the WWII Battle of the Bulge during the brutal winter of 1944-45. There were 89,500 American casualties. He was a company sergeant when Truman outlawed segregation in the military. (Racism did not disappear.) Dad then fought in Korea.
He earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, medals with clusters, stripes, and a combat wound with remaining scars. Dad retired as a Sgt.-Maj. after 23 years.
My discussion with Dad was imaginary because he died in 1976, three months after he saw me marry my beautiful bride of today. He never saw Colin Kaepernick protesting racial injustice by taking a knee during a nationally broadcast football game.
He was a tough S.O.B. I loved him, but we were not close. Uncharacteristically, he put his arm around me the last time he walked me out of his hospital room at Ft. Bliss, Texas, in 1976. He was dying of cancer. (Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em!)
Eight years before, he had been working on an appointment for me at West Point. A serious motorcycle accident shattered my leg. (My unhelmeted head dented the opposing car. Only the car suffered.) The Army didn’t want the new me.
As Dad walked me out of his hospital room, he told me that, while he was sorry that I was injured in that accident, he was not sorry that I couldn’t serve in the military. He simply said that, “this man’s Army ain’t what it used to be.”
That’s all that he said. But I got it. I had lived under “his roof” for 19 years (when I’m sure that he thought that I did not get it.) “This man’s Army” was, in many ways, a euphemism for our country in 1976.
He did not like flag-burning or conscientious objections, but he understood why the courts said that the Constitution protected that activity. He understood why veterans marched against the Vietnam War. Dad was disgusted when law enforcement officers beat peaceful Black protesters in Selma, Alabama. He cringed when we saw the news report about four little Black girls dying in a racially motivated church firebombing in Birmingham. The KKK murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi was foreign to a man from Brooklyn.
We saw Vietnam body counts and racist killings in America during supper as we watched TV news. And now we’re talking about a guy taking a knee to protest racial violence during a football game? Are we really that soft or myopic? Would that protest be more effective when televisions are turned off?
I learned about my dad’s Army career by requesting his records. Dad refused to tell me what he did during his combat tours. But I eavesdropped on his whiskey and beer conversations with his buddies. They didn’t talk about flag and country. They talked about getting home alive, and those who didn’t.
My educated guess is that my Republican father would not have liked seeing an athlete protest racism by taking a knee during the national anthem, but he would have hated seeing our flag used to spear law enforcement officers by Trump supporting traitors on Jan. 6, 2021. That was televised, too.
— Charles Wieland,