In response to my article on Veterans Day last week, I received a note from a retired general, Brig. Gen Joe Schafer. Joe is a professor at American Military University and an alumnus as well and he shared his thoughts about Veterans Day. I thought that his piece not only embraced many of my thoughts about those who serve our country, but also provided a great perspective on the attitude of the professional soldier toward the change in administrations and our Commanders in Chief. Given the orderly transition that we are currently going through after the recent election, you have to respect the way our democracy works regardless of who you voted for in the election. With Joe’s permission, I have provided the text of his note below.
11 Nov 2008
It is a private matter who you or I voted for to be the President of the United States one week ago. It is a public responsibility, however, no matter how we voted, to now offer our support and best wishes for the new President’s success in keeping this nation strong, ensuring the liberties we have fought and died for, and making the country better every single generation for the generation that follows.
I take great pride in having served under 7 Presidents while in uniformed service. (I missed Lyndon Johnson by 2 months, but served under Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, James Earl Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, William Clinton, and George W. Bush.) Though those 7 men were the Commander in Chief, as a member of the United States Army and the United States Air Force, I worked not for them as men, but for the American people. My duty, my allegiance, and my sworn oath were to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I will do so until I draw my final breath, in uniform or not.
Some Presidents enjoyed my respect for the steadfastness of their character and the quality of their leadership. Some whose ethics or moral fiber I did not respect still received my loyalty. They were, after all, the elected leader of the American people, and that’s who those of us who wear or have worn the uniform work for. I kept my own counsel – it didn’t matter if I respected them as leaders or merely served because they held the highest office the citizens of this nation can bestow upon a fellow American. Male or female. White or black. Just an American elected by other Americans. That’s reason enough for me.
These reflections of fealty and respect come to me now because the recent election, like the two that preceded it, was as momentarily divisive and vicious as – well, as every other American election. Only our very first President was unopposed and received 100% of the Electoral College votes.
The second US election, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, was characterized by brutal campaigning, vicious lies, yellow journalism, and much enmity all the way around. Adams won by 3 electoral votes, only to lose to Jefferson 4 years later by 8 votes. The two despised each other. But, as Americans are (uniquely?) able to do, they also respected each other’s intellect and contributions to the cause of liberty. They began, after their terms as President, a lifelong correspondence that did not concluded until the death of both men on the same day, July 4, 1826. The 50th anniversary of the day both signed the Declaration of Independence. With Adams’ last words allegedly being, “At least Jefferson lives.”
Every election since has been the same. We begin with vehement disagreement and, optimistically, we end by closing ranks and giving our support to the new President (all the while looking forward to the next election, of course.) This time will be no different. The entertainers who promised to leave the country 4 years ago if George W. Bush was re-elected disappointed us mightily by not having the courage to actually leave. This time around, those who are claiming they’ll take their guns and canned goods to a mountain redoubt will likely prove equally disappointing.
Our nation has endured the Presidencies of Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and – well, if they’re still living, they’ve endured enough, so let’s leave it at that. No matter what happens, we’ve seen worse. Some of us served under worse than we could possibly imagine going forward. Through it all, the common sense of the American people gets us through the worst of times and is there to reap the reward of their faith in the best of times,
I believe those who have defended the right to vote however we damn well choose, who have defended our right to disagree, who have defended our right to be wrong from time to time, and who have defended the Constitution itself, too often with their life’s blood, are among those who return to the citizenry at large most knowledgeable about just how unique and extraordinary our constitutional form of government is.
Our Veterans are the guardians of the Constitution, for they are able to compare other forms of government they have seen, fought alongside, or fought against. And they know firsthand the inexplicable elation of being able to repeat the following words, words that bring a catch in the throat of those taking it and those administering it. This oath is for military officers; NCOs and enlisted personnel swear a very similar oath:
“I, ((Full Name)), having been appointed an officer in the ((Branch of Service)) of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of ((Rank)) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”
As of this date, 11 November 2008, there is 1 veteran of World War I still alive (note: Frank Buckles, age 107, is a resident of Charles Town where APUS is headquartered). The best estimates are that there are 2,306,000 living service-members who served during World War II; 2,307,000 men and women who served during the Korean War; 7,125,000 Americans of every color, ethnic background, and political philosophy who were in uniformed service during the Vietnam War; 2,269,000 who served in Desert Storm and another 3,000,000 who have served or are still serving in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find one to say “Thank you.” Don’t worry or be embarrassed if it’s the day after Veteran’s day or a day 6 months hence. Still thank them. No matter when they served, no matter where, no matter for how long or in what capacity – they are the guardians of our Constitution. Many have the scars, and some only a lonely marker where they now lie forever still, to prove it.
Thank you, Veterans. To every one who has ever served, who does so today, or will in the future, I salute you.
Joseph L. Shaefer
B Gen, USAF, Ret.