My Old Man warned me it would happen

by John Stiles

He assured me that the day would come when everything I hold dear and honorable in this world, will be belittled by politicians, or at least those who kiss politicians’ rear ends.

I never really gave his words much thought until the day before Thanksgiving a week or so back.

I awoke on Wednesday, Nov. 22, and turned on my television; as usual I was tuning in for my daily dose of 24-hour news. I don't really recall which network it was -- and there it was; my father's warning personified.

I had heard, sometime earlier in the week I believe, that President Bush was to be the guest of my old outfit, the 101st Airborne Division, for a pre-Thanksgiving meal at Fort Campbell, Ky., that Wednesday morning. And I guess I shouldn't have been so shocked at what I saw on the 19 inch screen staring back at me, but I was immediately incensed just the same.

President Bush, meal already consumed and standing at a podium, was giving the troops a ''give 'em hell'' after dinner speech.

It wasn't so much his speech, which I can't for the life of me recall a word of at the moment, but his dress that drew my attention.

There was the President of the United States speaking to the troops with a flight jacket that had no doubt been given to him for the occasion. And on the right shoulder was a reverse 101st Airborne patch, which is in military parlance, a ''combat patch.''

When I was in the 101st, like any other outfit, the regular unit patch is worn on the left shoulder -- the same side where one wears his jump wings and combat infantryman's badge.

But once an individual has served in combat with his unit, he is also entitled to wear the outfit's patch on his right shoulder. In the case of the 101st, which is a black, white and gold ''Screaming Eagle,'' the patch on the right side has the famous bird facing to the rear, leading to the oft stated belief that its wearer was the beneficiary of ''front and rear security'' (eagles facing both front and back).

Now I am fully aware that President Bush did not serve in the Vietnam War. He was never in any foxhole next to me, or anybody else I ever heard of on the other side of the Pacific at that time.

And I do not hold the president responsible for the breach of military etiquette that occurred at Fort Campbell. I'm certain that some supposedly well-meaning brass kisser from division headquarters thought the stunt would go a long way to polish the unit's image with the politicians.

But quite frankly, I was incensed by what I saw. The president, regardless of his place in the national chain of command, does not have the right to wear a combat patch, least of all my combat patch, for any reason what-so-ever.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was Commander in Chief and the man who sent me, indirectly I am sure, to Vietnam did not have that right either.

I would have been just as incensed had former President Clinton dawned the same jacket and patch. But I'm more than just a little sure that none would have been offered.

And perhaps it adds to my sense of outrage that when our current president had his chance to serve, he went missing from his Air National Guard unit in Alabama for cris' sake. Then when the stuff hits the fan on Sept. 11 he goes and hides in a hole in the ground in Omaha.

All right, there I've said it. Now, it's out in the open and I've probably offended a few hundred other Americans who will rush to remind me that President Bush's absence from Washington on the day that airplanes were falling all over the East Coast was no doubt the fault of his security force.

But I have a tough time believing that under similar circumstances other chief executives of this country would have allowed some Secret Service detail to make them out to be a coward -- either real or imagined.

So now I've gotten it all off my chest. So let the cards and letters start flying.

I have already voiced my opinion of the Fort Campbell incident via e-mail to every level of this nation's national defense establishment all the way from the White House, Joint Chiefs of Staff and 101st Airborne Division headquarters.

And, as both of my daughters and my wife have already pointed out, the FBI should be getting in touch with me any day now. My name, already probably on some list of troublemakers someplace in the deep reaches of the defense establishment in the nation's capital, no doubt moved a notch or two higher on the watch list because of my ire.

I'll have to run. There are a couple of guys in dark suits, sunglasses and earpieces knocking on my apartment door mumbling something about a federal search warrant.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online December 4, 2001

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