A child of the 1960s comes of age

May 1, 2014
I think we need to check our priorities. Before we try to give everyone every conceivable entitlement, what’s wrong with taking care of those who took care of us first?

I am a child of the 1960’s. As a teenager during those volatile years, my thinking was shaped by the culture (or perhaps more correctly, the counter culture) of the day.

As the popular lyric from the 1967 song “For What It’s Worth” described it, “a thousand people in the street, singing songs and carrying signs.”

“Socially conscious” folk – singers and pop pundits of the time – persuaded me that the “military industrial complex,” which President Eisenhower warned the country about in his 1961 farewell address, was at the core of our problems. 

It was an attitude that was reinforced by my college professors and remained with me much of my young adulthood. It would have been safe to say that I had a bad attitude about the military. While this might seem an inappropriate way to start a column that aims to be a tribute to veterans, I beg your indulgence.

Thankfully, my attitude changed. As I matured (grew up may be a more apt way of describing it) I saw things differently. Things that seemed so obvious before looked different through the eyes of age, experience and the wisdom of others.

The words of Winston Churchill seem to sum up my perspective, “Show me a young conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.”

However, one man more than anyone else brought perspective and what I now see as wisdom to my thinking, my friend and business partner, Jerry McCabe. 

In addition to being one of the boldest and brightest thinkers in the aftermarket, Jerry is an upstanding man of conscience, spirituality and duty. He is the son of a preacher and a veteran of two tours of duty in Viet Nam. I met Jerry in the late 1970’s, less than a decade after he finished his second tour. I remember thinking two things at the time. First, it was obvious to even me, the self-centered, anti-war hippie, that he had left a part of himself back there in the jungle. It was clear that he was distracted, if not haunted by what he had seen and maybe even done. Others talked about “his service” but he did not. 

The other thought that dogged me at the time was “why?” Why had a person of conscience, intelligence and spirituality volunteered to go to war, especially one that I viewed as being so wrong? 

Over the years as our unlikely business association grew into a strong friendship, and ultimately a business partnership, I began to understand. At different times, he talked about his experience. I learned that his motivation was the truest of all – a sense of responsibility and duty. He didn’t analyze the morality of the action or second-guess the leaders; he simply understood that it was his time and his duty to give back to a country that had given him so much

And give he did. In the course of serving, he contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion and Parkinson’s from exposure to Agent Orange. Now, 40-plus years later, he is struggling.

It saddens me to see how the country now treats those who have done so much for it. At a time when we seem to feel so strongly for providing for those amongst us in need, I am truly embarrassed by how we treat those who have served us all and given so much. I’m not trying to proselytize; I am struck by how poorly we treat those who have served.

I think we need to check our priorities. Before we try to give everyone every conceivable entitlement, what’s wrong with taking care of those who took care of us first? 

I was watching a news program the other day and a commentator made a comment that brought this issue into focus for me. He said, “a pacifist cannot be a pacifist unless someone else is willing to die for him.”  While we need to do our best to be our brother’s keeper, I say put the one’s who put us in the position to be our brother’s keeper at the head of the line.

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