Much of that gray November morning is only a dim memory.
I do recall there were two or three other young lads at the bus station. Since I was the oldest, I was put in charge of seeing that we properly transferred buses to reach our destination. We picked up more young men of the same age, mostly 18 to 22 years old, along the way from places like Marshalltown and Eldora. Once in Des Moines, it was easy. We switched buses, rode down Grand Avenue, out on Fleur Drive, past Gray’s Lake and the airport, then a hard left on Army Post Road and we arrived at Fort Polk for our induction into the United States Army.
Our immediate future was rather bleak: Nine weeks of basic training, maybe a leave, then back for 12 intensive work weeks at the advanced infantry school, then off to Vietnam. Upon arrival there, most troops would quickly become familiar with the very popular U.S. Armed Forces deejay Adrian Cronauer, who would start each radio broadcast by announcing, “Gooood Morning, Vietnam!” followed by the music of the times, like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” The troops loved him; the generals despised him.
Those men and women who were able to return to the U.S. did so with the same tacit understanding as had those who stormed the beaches at Normandy or tried to dig fox holes on frozen mountainsides in Korea. Get a job, raise your family, contribute in your own way to the growth of your community and when you reached senior citizen status you would be honored and respected. This applied whether you were in the services or simply a good citizen who was not called or could not serve. We valued the lives of our seniors.
Not anymore. The Dow is down, and unemployment is rising.
We are really in a transformative period in America. Until recently, we placed the highest value on human life and the quality of that life. We shortened the work week to 40 hours, forbid child labor, passed the Clear Air and Clean Water Acts attempted to see that the goals of that legislation were reached. We undertook, through the Occupational Health and Safety Act, that when you shook the hand of a machinist they had all their fingers because the press they were operating was properly guarded, and through the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act that the coal miner didn’t cough when greeted because of black lung disease. The American principle of “pursuing happiness” was applied to all, including seniors.
Now, I would recommend radio stations that play golden oldies give consideration to starting their mornings with the announcement “Gooood Morning, Pandemic!”
Seniors are on the front line in our war against the virus. As we push to jump-start the economy, against medical advice, older citizens will be joined by others in the high-risk category. The push to open schools will put children, who are showing alarming increases in infection, in the fox holes along with their teachers, school employees, and school administrators. This must be accomplished, we are told, because then their parents can return to work and become consumers again.
Vince Lombardi, the famous Green Bay Packers coach, once yelled from the sidelines when his team was in disarray, “What the hell is going on out there?” To which I would add, “What the hell are we thinking?”
I know corporations are people by legal definition, but are their quarterly earnings at this instant really that important? Not so, I think, when you consider that the victims of the coronavirus die in isolation without holding the hand of a loved one, that the last sight their eyes see is a ventilator shoved down their throat. Or that a small, scared child, drawing their last breath, cannot be held by their parents and told to “go to the light.”
If this is modern America, where profits are now more important than people, then I have a suggestion. We are taking down a lot of statues on statehouse and federal grounds. At this moment in history, and as we turn our backs on our parentage, a large Golden Calf seems the most appropriate replacement.
Dave Nagle is a Waterloo attorney and former U.S. congressman.