'Honoring Heroes'

They can probably be forgiven for not noticing. Most of my "colleagues" in the so-called mainstream media have been very busy this week. Chasing after classified information leaked about the National Security Agency or searching out those who have a problem with President Bush dispatching 6,000 National Guard troops to protect our southern border is hard work. What with all these important stories — and "breaking news" over a Duke University lacrosse-team rape case and the release of the "Da Vinci Code" heresy flick — they were probably too exhausted to note that Sat., May 20 is Armed Forces Day.

Or maybe it’s because Armed Forces Day is just at the wrong time of year. It’s sandwiched in between Easter and Memorial Day. It lacks the legacy of Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11. And after all, Armed Forces Day, which honors those currently serving in our military, isn’t sufficiently "politically correct" to warrant a three-day holiday. Thus the occasion has pretty much been ignored by the potentates of the press since it was first observed in 1950.

Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson came up with the idea as a means of showing appreciation for those who were presently serving our nation. He reasoned that those who had previously served had Veteran’s Day — once called "Armistice Day" for the date in which World War I ended — and that Memorial Day was a tribute to our war dead — but that those who presently served on freedom’s frontiers were given scant recognition. The president and Congress agreed and on May 20, 1950 President Harry S. Truman said, "Armed Forces Day … marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense."

Truman’s sentiment may have been correct — but his words were grossly inaccurate. Thirty-six days after that first Armed Forces Day, the North Korean People’s Army charged across the 38th parallel and smashed inadequately trained and equipped U.S. and South Korean Army forces that tried to stand in their path. Pushed into a tiny pocket at Pusan on the southeast coast of the peninsula, the U.S. military struggled for nearly three months to simply avert catastrophe.

MacArthur’s daring amphibious assault, deep behind enemy lines at Inchon on Sept. 15, 1950 turned the tide — but two months later, nearly a quarter of a million Communist Chinese Army troops entered the fray, pushed the Americans and their allies back and recaptured Seoul, the South Korean capital. For the next three years, Armed Forces Day would be observed with little celebration by the families of young Americans fighting pitched see-saw battles against Chinese and North Korean communists in the hills of Korea. By the war’s unsatisfying end at the Panmunjom truce table in 1953, more than 137,000 Americans had been wounded, killed or were missing in action — largely because of the hollow promise on that first Armed Forces Day, that there was "readiness for any eventuality."

The bloodletting in the Korean War was horrific compared to the present Global War on Terror. Yet, the armchair admirals, bar-room brigadiers and sound-bite Special Forces of the U.S. press corps were far more supportive of our Armed Forces than they are today.

Cameramen like David Douglas Duncan spent months in the field — their lenses capturing indelible images of young Americans serving in harm’s way. Journalists like Marguerite Higgins filed tributes — not affronts — to the young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving the cause of freedom. Hard as it may be to comprehend today, the New York Times, on May 17 1952, said of Armed Forces Day, "This is the day on which we have the welcome opportunity to pay special tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces … to all the individuals who are in the service of their country all over the world. Armed Forces Day won’t be a matter of parades and receptions for a good many of them. They will all be in the line of duty and some of them may give their lives in that duty."

Though the young Americans serving in today’s U.S. military are the brightest and best educated, trained, equipped and combat-experienced in our nation’s history, they don’t get the same respect as their predecessors on Armed Forces Day. It’s far more likely that they will be accused — as Congressman John Murtha did this week — of some terrible crime.

They deserve better from the press and the politicians. As President Bush said recently, the reason why we’re "still the land of the free is because we are the home of the brave." And the bravest are those who serve in the uniforms of the Armed Forces of the United States.