Column: Why Memorial Day really matters |

Column: Why Memorial Day really matters

Roland McLean

Charles Keating IV was recently killed in Iraq near Mosul. A Navy Seal, he was serving as an adviser to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. In a fierce battle, Petty Officer Keating was killed. He died a hero and should be honored this Memorial Day and all future ones.

Memorial Day has never been picnics and barbecues for most us who served. I try to find a military-oriented service and sneak into the back as anonymously as possible. I carry a list of friends and shipmates who didn’t make it. At one time I could remember them all, but at my age I had to write them down in order not to forget anyone. I go to pay respect to them and others from all wars who died in service to the country.

Last year I went to a ceremony with a friend who was also a naval aviator. I had been told that a former Marine colonel did a good ceremony in Aspen. The notice of the service suggested that veterans wear something military. Although I hardly ever wear anything from my Navy days, we decided to wear our flight jackets.

Shortly after we parked in Aspen, an elderly lady came by and made a snide remark about us obviously related to our service. I was really saddened by her attitude. She appeared to be old enough to have been a Vietnam War protestor, but it seemed that she just disliked anyone who had been in the military.

I believe that the current extreme polarization of our nation began with the Vietnam War. I went to Vietnam as a Kennedy Democrat, fresh out of CU. I returned as a political agnostic. I felt betrayed by the Democrats who had sent us. Over time, most of us got over the war and treatment we received on our return. However, we never got over a distrust of the liberals who sent us and then turned their backs on us while we were still in combat.

It is surprising to observe that those on the left, like that lady, are still angry. I think those of us who served in Vietnam had good reason to be angry. Why are some liberals so angry and anti-military? What did that lady gain by insulting us?

Vietnam was truly a turning point. Prior to Vietnam, the military was respected and largely apolitical. I could not imagine that in Aspen in 1915 anyone would have disparaged a 70-year-old veteran of the Civil War. I do not believe that in 1995 a 70-year-old veteran of WWII would have been insulted. This lady felt compelled to insult us on Memorial Day almost 50 years after Vietnam.

In the Vietnam War, 58,307 servicemen and women were killed. Of those, 11,465 were 20 or younger, according to the Vietnam Veterans of America. Draftees were 30.4 percent of those killed. More than 66 percent of American WWII casualties were draftees. The vast majority of casualties in Vietnam were volunteers.

As of May 5, 2016, in Afghanistan, 2,381 Americans have been killed in combat. More than 18,000 were wounded. In Iraq, with the death of Petty Officer Keating, 4,500 servicemen and women have been killed. More than 32,000 have been wounded. Undoubtedly the death rates would have been much higher were it not for vastly improved battlefield medical treatment.

While treatment of the returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan has been better than that received by Vietnam veterans, there still exists a liberal core who do not respect those who have served. John Hawkins in Townhall wrote “25 Five Quotes That Show You How Much Liberals Hate Soldiers Like Chris Kyle.” In that article he quotes noted liberals such as John Carroll of the Boston Post, Michael Moore, Stan Goff in the Huffington Post, Bill Maher, David M. Kennedy in the New York Times, John Murtha and Secretary of State John Kerry, among others. Many of these quotes demonstrate obvious hatred of those who have served. Others seem to hold the opinion that those in the military had no other career choice due to their lack of intellectual capacity.

Disdain for the military is not limited to liberals. Paul Ryan, while working on the budget, sought to cut military retirement pay and pay to wounded veterans. He made no attempt to cut pay to other federal employees including himself or his own staff. Donald Trump has made disparaging remarks about Sen. John McCain’s service.

It is difficult for me to understand this attitude. The finest, most intelligent and honorable people with whom I have worked were in my Navy squadrons, both officer and enlisted. I have no doubt that Petty Officer Keating and his Seal Team rushed into the battle with total disregard for their own safety in order to save their Kurdish allies. As American citizens we can be thankful that we have a military who will do the same for us.

This Memorial Day take a moment to reflect on the death of Charles Keating and the thousands of others who have sacrificed for us.

Roland McLean, an Aspen Glen resident, is a University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at


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