Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day, Kansas, Meaningful Perks for Veterans and other ramblings

Another memorial day and a time to reflect.  It's been a bit over two decades since I served a stint in the US Army.  It was a mostly uneventful stint as world politics were concerned although at the time, I had thought that far into the future when someone inquired, "were you in a war?" I would respond, "no, far worse, I served in the peace time army."  While I have since re-considered this opinion and would not wish to trade my peace time service for the war time service of recent years, my observation remains that a peace time army feeds on its own.   Indeed, in my role as legal clerk, there were many who were discharged due to lack of fit with a peace time, parade ready army.

Many would say that "uneventful" is a consistent theme for my term of service which was largely at Fort Riley, Kansas.  For many, Kansas life was a source of tedium driving many to long for reassignments to Germany or Korea or just about anywhere else.  I love Kansas.  Sure, there was the initial apprehension of arriving on one of those little crop duster airplanes in what appeared to be a big field outside of Manhattan, Kansas, but I had grown up very isolated on a dairy farm so Kansas offered plenty for me.  Even now, over 20 years later, I recall with much fondness some of the things I loved about Kansas.  I recall trips into Abilene, an old cattle town, and enjoying Kentucky Fried Chicken at the Eisenhower Memorial.  I also relished trips to Topeka, Kansas where I found myself gazing in awe at the giant mural of John Brown inside the state capital.  I also recall spending a Christmas in Salina, KS with B (aka "Freaky P") and his uncle's family.  His uncle was a kind man who gave me (a complete stranger) a ratchet set which I have often used and still have today.

Then of course, there were numerous jaunts into the nearby towns of Manhattan and Junction City, each having a very different flavor.  Manhattan was (and probably still is) a college town, home of Kansas State University.  It's proximity to the army base made it attractive for GIs who wanted to escape from being surrounded by the military and blend somewhat with the academics.  Unfortunately, I would have to say they didn't blend well; you could always tell who was military and who was college.  Junction City was filled with intrigue.  Its roots were clearly an aged western town with broad streets and stores lining the main street.  The flow of GI money kept the town lively from fast food stops and used car lots to pawn shops and bars.  Yes, I enjoyed prowling the pawn shops and there were many occasions later as I adjusted to my new home where I enjoyed "sleezin'" with others to the downtown bars.

Yet for all my fond memories of Kansas and despite all of the nearby "GI towns," one thing that was noticeably absent was a veteran's discount.  This was the sandwich era, the gap following Vietnam, but before Iraq and 9-11.  Following Vietnam, I believe the country struggled with how to deal with the military - they were regarded somewhat as a necessary evil and these local GI haunts reflected this aura.  GI money was welcome; GIs not so much.  The country changed after 9-11.  One of my greatest memories following 9-11 was the number of "flag cars" trolling around town.  It seemed as though to be considered patriotic you needed to have a flag lodged in the door, trunk or hood of your car and that the biggest "patriot" was the one who cruised with the most flags.  I recall taking a business trip to the Adirondacks to site visit some mental health practitioners and passing many large flags draped over bridges and underpasses on my way north.  It was a beautiful summer day in the serene wilderness of the Adirondacks where I passed a lake and spontaneity took over for a swim to bask temporarily in a small world with no terrorists and no war.

Last week I received an advertisement from Dodge in my email celebrating Memorial Day and honoring veterans with a veteran's new car incentive.  Unfortunately, this offer as many similar in the past falls flat in honoring veterans.  These incentives are typically offered to retirees or active duty military.  Most veterans are neither; thus, these companies make much public fanfare over what they are doing for veterans when in reality they are offering nothing to most veterans.  In contrast, I have honored 2 large companies with inclusion on the MTQ Allstar page.  First, is Walmart which has made a commitment to offer jobs to returning veterans.  Second, is Lowe's which has provided a 10% discount to ALL veterans for the past few years.  It is great to see public pride and meaningful tributes to veterans.  I hope that continues and while it is unlikely to see the end of war, perhaps an occasional skinny dip on a hot summer day might bring you peace.

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