I was standing around at the dedication of a new veterans' memorial the other day, in city hall and not too far from the "wall" the city hall installed a couple years ago — the wall being a bulletin board where you can post pictures of your boy or girl overseas.
And I thought of the other memorials whose fundraising efforts or dedications I've written about in the last couple of years.
As a reporter, I've noticed that the worse things get in this country, the more memorials we dedicate, the more droolingly effusive we are in our thanks to the veterans, the more "If You Can Read This In English, Thank A Soldier" bumper stickers I see. The last bridge built in my town, opened recently, is called "Veterans Memorial Bridge."
There's no work and a lot of what work there is pays money that wouldn't support a duck, but we can always pour concrete for another memorial. If you see a vet, shake his hand. Just don't ask him where he's working. If your waitress tells you she just got out of the Navy, give her a bigger tip, but don't ask her how many hours a week she's getting.
Are these the two last things we can do as a nation: send you overseas to kill people and then shake your hand when you get home?
Can we only do that and then stop there? Do we stop short of good, union jobs with pensions for our vets, full-time jobs a man or woman can count on? A little house? A weekly paycheck?
Freedom, as we endlessly yap, isn't free.
But neither is food or clothes or medicine for the baby.
But, hey, the people who start the wars are working steady. The senators get their pensions. The CEO gets his heath care. You get a quick trip through some dirty little war in the Third World, and then you come home to a handshake and a part-time, $9-an-hour job.
One of the most beautiful things about my country, America, is the men and women soldiers, most often working class, lower-middle class or poor, who have, for more than a decade, joined and kept joining and left little pieces of themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan in purposeless fights that never end. All we have asked, they have done, deployed two, three or four times.
Their actions are a sad poem of honor and determination and a lesson in how service to the nation, laughed at by the rich and sold by the elected, still keeps true those who have the least to gain in the fight.
We at home build the America in which our soldiers will live.
A nation full of memorials is a cemetery. A nation of jobs and security and pensions is a place not just to fight for but a place to live when you come home.