A better way to show our appreciation

Mr. President, may I have a few minutes of your time? I would like to suggest an alternative to the big Veterans Day parade in Washington, D.C., that you asked the Pentagon to plan.

I certainly appreciate your desire to honor the men and women in our armed forces who are serving our nation around the globe. I understand you want to show off the equipment our military has at the ready.

The last big military parade was 26 years ago after the end of the first Gulf War. That was the war that made a no-nonsense general named Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the coalition forces, a household name.

You would have liked Schwarzkopf. At the very least, you would have appreciated his nickname, “Stormin’ Norman.”

When the Gulf War ended in 1992, there was a huge victory parade in Washington. There was a similar parade in Des Moines that honored the thousands of Iowa National Guard soldiers who were deployed to Saudi Arabia for the war. People lined the streets downtown to show their gratitude to those Iowa men and women.

But the parade you have been talking about seems different, Mr. President. Instead of a quick war in 1990 and 1991 that ended Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, our military has been mired down in Afghanistan for 17 years and in Iraq for 15 years.

That’s why I think you should consider another option instead of a huge parade if you want to show the nation’s gratitude to its armed forces.

At a time when red ink is flowing from the federal budget like water out of a fire hose, and coming at a time when you have proposed significant cuts to other areas of the federal budget, I think it sends the wrong message to spend $30 million on a parade.

While that is pocket change to the Pentagon, it’s a lot of money to most Americans. Many will focus on that amount, rather than your message, if you go ahead with the parade.

Instead of transporting thousands of members of the military to Washington, along with tanks and other weaponry, here’s a far less expensive way to show the gratitude of Americans.

In the days leading up to Veterans Day, you and Melania should have the Secret Service drive you across the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery.

Wander among the 400,000 graves that cover the hillsides. Read the inscriptions on the tombstones. Think about the families of those men and women who stepped forward to serve.

Plan to visit Section 60, several hundred yards east of the Tomb of the Unknown. This section is where the dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.

Don’t be surprised if you encounter spouses and kids sitting next to the graves, wrapped in their thoughts or talking to the person beneath the white marble markers.

Look for the photos that friends and relatives have left behind after they visited a loved one.

Section 60 isn’t a popular tourist site at Arlington. For that reason, a veteran who was there on Veterans Day last year was surprised when he encountered an older man walking alone among the stones.

The older man was James Mattis, the secretary of defense and a retired Marine Corps general.

The younger veteran was touched by the secretary’s presence at Arlington that day. As he said later, “Defense Secretary Mattis spent his Veterans Day with the recent fallen.”

The veteran said he watched as Mattis talked with visitors to Section 60. He overheard a brief conversation between Mattis and a man whose son, also a Marine, is buried there.

The man told Mattis that the general was his son’s hero. Mattis, with a sad half-smile, replied, “He’s one of mine.”

The United States has been burying its war dead at Arlington since 1864. The funerals for each one, both young and old, include formal military honors.

That’s one way our nation shows our respect and extends our thanks for the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have worn our military uniforms --- whether they are taken from us on the battlefield or make their trip to the hallowed grounds of Arlington after long and full lives as civilians.

I hope you will consider this suggestion, Mr. President.

I think it will mean much more to millions of Americans to see you walk silently among the graves, to see you stand humbly in front of these memorials to men and women who gave their innocence, and sometimes their lives, when our nation needed them.

There will be a powerful message if you quietly greet relatives visiting loved ones and if you respectfully stand at attention in the distance as Taps sounds to end one of the nearly 30 funerals held each week day at Arlington.

If you do this, I think you will find these actions speak louder than words – and more powerfully than any parade.

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Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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