April 10, 2007

All veterans deserve honor, but not all honors are created equal

According to news reports more than 100 people recently showed up at a Bend City Council meeting to advocate the renaming of the city's newest bridge (formerly Newport Avenue Bridge) after Randy Newman, a Bend-area Marine killed in Iraq last year.

During its previous meeting the city council had voted to name the span Veterans Memorial Bridge and Newman's supporters were there hoping to change the council's mind -- but left bitterly disappointed. His mother was quoted as saying "You don't understand what it would mean to me."

It's not hard to understand the grief Newman's friends and family have been enduring since last summer. It's not hard to understand their pride either. If being a hero means showing uncommon courage then Newman was a hero. For a soldier, just showing up for battle makes them a hero. It's certainly something the rest of us are unwilling to do and we should honor soldiers who are willing to bear that burden for us.

Veterans of all kinds -- including those who survive battle or see no combat at all -- deserve our respect and admiration for their willingness to serve. But does that kind of honor translate into naming a major landmark for the veteran?

The history of patriotism in the U.S. and support of soldiers in general has had an unfortunate roller coaster ride. The divisive nature of Vietnam unraveled nearly 200 years of unified support for combat veterans and the 30 years since have seen an upward journey towards respect and honor. The backlash from those shameful years of blaming Vietnam soldiers for the choices made by our leaders has lead to a zealousness of patriotism, a desire to label every soldier an exemplary warrior and every combat death heroic.

In reality, exceptional honors such as combat medals and dedications of landmarks are few and far between, as they should be. Bend and Redmond only have one landmark each named for a specific veteran and each was honored for standout bravery and performance in battle of the type seldom seen.

Once upon a time in America parades were held to honor all veterans - our everyday heroes -- and confetti was showered on them equally for their willingness to defend our country. Special honors and ceremony were reserved for those who stood out above the rest for their contribution, sacrifice, and bravery.

Handing out exceptional honors to every soldier who served, or died, dilutes the tribute paid to the ones who performed true acts of heroism and changed the course of many lives with their valor.

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