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Monday, April 1, 2013

Heroism, According to Bill McClellan

St. Louis columnist Bill McClellan has been a hot topic this week - mostly because he suggested that in order to save money we (and by "we" he means the government) should stop footing the bill for military honors at the funerals of all veterans. Why? Because "they aren't ALL heroes." Of course, he did concede that those who were killed in action were heroic enough to still receive such honors... Big of him, don't you think?

I was annoyed by the article to begin with. But then today I heard him do a live radio interview with Dana Loesch during which he clarified his position. He mentioned that he himself was drafted into the Marine Corps during Vietnam. He explained that after he came home, he went to college on the GI Bill. He said that he "didn't need military funeral honors" because he doesn't consider himself a hero.

So riddle me this, Bill: what benefits each individual soldier deserves should be dependent on a) your definition of the term "hero" and b) your assessment of which benefits are important?

Let's take a simple example: my father. He accepted a direct commission into the Army Reserve in 1999. He served for eight years, including one 9 month tour in Afghanistan. His camp faced a few minor rocket attacks, but nothing of consequence. He would be the first to tell you that he is no hero. For him, serving in the military was something he had always wanted to do. His oldest brother was a veteran of the Delaware National Guard. His nephew was a Marine. His other brother had served in Vietnam. And his father, who passed away four years before Dad got his commission, had served in Belgium in 1944-45. Military service in his family goes much farther back than that - there are at least two distant relatives that we know of who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

By Mr. McClellan's standards, my dad should have had access to the GI Bill (an "important" military benefit) but not full military honors at his funeral. But here's the problem: my dad had a Masters Degree before he took his commission at age 45. Education was not something he needed. But a military funeral? He may not want one, I haven't asked him. But if he does, perhaps to him it would be more about connecting with his family history.

The point is this: Mr. McClellan is a veteran, and I respect him for that. But his assessment here is both wrong and reprehensible. Patriotism and heroics are not measured by the lives given in service to the country, but by lives offered freely. Perhaps the draft ruined that perspective for him, and if that's the case he has no business outlining what is "deserved" by those who volunteered.

A hero is one who writes that check, filling in the amount "up to and including my life." For that heroism to be rewarded, it should not also be required that the government cash it first.