Where Heroes Are Not Welcome

February 28th, 2011
Published in Family Security Matters February 28, 2011

During the Vietnam war, it was not the demands of combat that caused more than one career Marine to leave the service. There was one assignment which, although far from Vietnam’s battlefields, proved too much even for battle-hardened Marines. The toll-taking assignment was Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO)—the local Marine Corps representative who, given notice of a Marine’s combat death, then had to notify his next of kin.

While dealing with parents overcome by grief brought tears to many a CAO’s eyes, there were elements of the job that drained them in short order of their energy to continue doing it. They saw how such a family’s sacrifice often went unappreciated by an anti-war public.

Vietnam veteran Marine Lieutenant Colonel George Goodson, 78, served as a CAO during the war—his last assignment before resigning his commission. He gave family notifications, worked on funeral arrangements and participated in services. A Marine detail would smartly fold the flag draped over the coffin, ceremoniously handing it to Goodson. He would salute the flag, accept it from the senior Marine in the detail and then approach the appropriate family member sitting at the burial site. Marine Corps guidelines called for Goodman to present it with the words, “On behalf of a grateful nation…” But the reality the nation was not grateful for such a sacrifice left Goodson feeling hypocritical. Therefore, as he knelt by the family member, he would softly say, “All Marines share in your grief.”

Goodson shared this insight into a CAO’s life in a 2009 article he wrote. His message is relevant again today due to the conduct by members of an “ungrateful nation” exhibited February 15th at Columbia University.

Anthony Maschek, 28, attends Columbia. An older freshman, his service in the Army had delayed his college education. A former Staff Sergeant, he received the Purple Heart for a single action in Iraq in which he was wounded eleven times during a fierce firefight in 2008. He broke both legs and was wounded in the abdomen, arm and chest. His recovery took two years.

Maschek went to a townhall meeting at the university where the topic for discussion was whether to bring ROTC—banned 42 years ago—back to the campus. It is a subject that has sparked tensions as most students seem to favor continuing the ban. Many attendees held anti-military signs.

After listening to several speakers favoring the ban, Maschek approached the microphone. His effort to change students’ perception of the military and its importance in meeting today’s threats was met with hissing and booing. He commented, “It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war. It doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting. There are bad men out there plotting to kill you.” His response only triggered laughter and jeering from a crowd uninterested in his message and lacking respect for what he had endured in risking his life to fight a war.

Compare Maschek’s effort to logically explain the need for ROTC to be returned to the university and the ungrateful reception this war hero was given at Columbia to the very gracious reception given by Columbia students four years earlier to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After being introduced by university President Lee Bollinger, who pulled no punches in calling Ahmadinejad “a petty and cruel dictator” guilty of brutalizing his own people, the Iranian president began his talk by chastising Bollinger for his “political” commentary. Columbia students applauded Ahmadinejad’s chastisement of their university president and then politely listened to what Ahmadinejad had to say.

The naiveté with which these students graciously received Ahmadinejad, oblivious to what he was really telling them, was evident by their lack of any concern about his opening prayer.

Ahmadinejad prayed to “hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi,” granting him “victory,” and making “us his followers…attest to his rightfulness.” In the Iranian president’s world, the “victory” for which he prayed was for Islam’s redeemer to return to earth, restoring Islam to greatness—giving all non-Muslims the option either to convert or die.

In effect, Ahmadinejad issued a death threat to Columbia’s students; Maschek simply sought to warn them such a threat is real. Sadly, the students graciously accepted the tyrannical messenger of the threat but not the courageous messenger warning about its focus.

A veteran has been described as “someone who, at one point in his life wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’” Staff Sergeant Maschek wrote such a check—and it was partially cashed. There are way too many students at Columbia University who fail to understand, and respect, this.

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