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It was on this day in 1974 that Richard Nixon turned in his resignation to Henry Kissinger, and Gerald Ford became President. I was somewhat distracted then, as just 5 days before I had gone back to work in public relations in Chicago at Cooper and Golin on the global McDonald's PR account. I was still living on my Chris-Craft, anchored opposite Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park harbor. I would row ashore each morning in my dingy, wearing a three piece suit with my briefcase, then walk across Grant Park to my new office overlooking the Wrigley Building across the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue. Seeing Nixon out was some recompense for the insult of the Vietnam War, but I was too busy getting in the groove of publicizing Ronald McDonald to stop and pay much notice. If Ford hadn't later pardoned Nixon, he might have gone on to become a greater President.

  • Two things collided: I voted early today, and Tom Hayden died. We were not far from the same age. He helped organize the 1968 convention anti-war riot in Chicago. I was shipped to Vietnam a couple months later. That was 11 Presidential elections ago, and I’m still voting, but none of the 58,000 Americans listed on that long black wall in D.C. are now voting, nor the legions of their unborn potential progeny. That could add up to hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million in uncast

 votes. Elections have been won and lost on less. So, if you wonder if your vote counts, think of all those votes lost because of decisions made 40 years ago, and the potential consequences of your vote, even 40 years from now.

As a Vietnam-era veteran, I can only wonder what my counterparts would have said if Congress had proposed 11 more years in Vietnam in 1975. Now, in 2013, that is what is being proposed forAfghanistan! Yes, times have changed. Maybe wars should go on forever now. What do you think? I know what I’d do…

Was in 1968, when I had arrived in Saigon a few days earlier, and was in the midst of an officer’s in-country orientation at MACV headquarters. I had arrived alone, knew no-one, and and my assignment had just been shot out from under me, quite truly, as the Vietnamese general officer I was to serve as press liaison to, had shot my predecessor over a disagreement.

In a very down spirit, I arrived in the general mess hall and was greeted by holiday music, Thanksgiving decor and one of the best Thanksgiving dinners of my life (with apologies to my mother and grandmother). It was such a delight, in that godforsaken place, that I’ve never forgotten the experience, chatting warmly with total strangers, for 40 minutes or so of relief, so long ago and far away. I still have the menu card from that wonderfully surprising Thanksgiving dinner.

Read more in my essay on my military experiences, called “All That Glitters.” Go to http://www.chilit.org and search for the title
under Ebeling.

Memorial Day is always a mixed bag for me. I do weep for those who served and suffered. But most of them were followers, even the officers, of political leaders who had made life and death decisions on their behalf, sometimes for very bad reasons. Of late, especially since Vietnam, those reasons have been somewhere on the scale between questionable and dead wrong.

When we had the draft, in the Vietnam era, one could have great compassion for the young who sacrificed their options in life to serve their country when called. Even those who dodged service gave up option then. Since the end of the draft, many who have served have done so just to get a job and some training that was not otherwise readily available for them. We can have sympathy for them that they made such a Hobson’s choice.

Today, as we honor those who served, and especially those who suffered and died in place of ourselves, and as we remember their families, we might best respect their loyalty to their nation  by questioning the motives and the thinking of those who are our political leaders today, as to their military strategies. Do these strategies justify the continued use of our military might, and are the American people being served well by these strategies and the people behind them?

The loyalties and sacrifices of generations of Americans who have served and supported the military are best served, I believe, by an engaged, questioning, demanding public,  that holds our leadership accountable for their strategies and decisions, and speaks out boldly on behalf of those who have served, are serving and those yet to be called.

America has too often been a nation of Forest Gumps, being led to the slaughter by cynical, distant leaders. Memorial Day should be about honoring those who serve by questioning those who lead. It’s not just about memories, but accountability. For a personal story about questioning and service, see my essay, “All That Glitters,” as presented to the Chicago Literary Club. http://www.chilit.org/Papers%20by%20author/Ebeling%20–%20All%20That%20Glitters.htm

August 2017
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