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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
15 Nov 2014
Mr. Muskie of Maine

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Let's hear a round of applause. When this year's last negative TV ad has been aired and the last check, from … Read More.

The End of an Admirable Era


After 42 years of steadfast service to his country, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph E. Rigby recently retired from the U.S. Army. More memorable than the official celebration ceremony, which rightly marked the end of this loyal American's service, was the national policy that made his career possible. Ralph Rigby was almost certainly the last soldier on active duty who had been drafted into military service.

This retirement truly marks the end of an American era — an era I would argue was admirable. In 1972, when Rigby, a native of Auburn, New York, entered the Army, 402 members of Congress — because of the draft law in force between 1940 and 1973 — had themselves served in the military. There was a time when the sons of the powerful and the privileged did not avoid or evade serving their country, a more equal time when defending the nation was every American man's responsibility.

Think about this. After surviving combat in North Africa and Sicily, 56-year-old Theodore Roosevelt Jr. successfully lobbied to personally lead a D-Day landing at Utah Beach. Awarded the Medal of Honor after his brave but weakened heart gave out in the summer of 1944, he is buried next to his brother Quentin, who died fighting in France in World War I, in the American cemetery at Normandy.

Stephen Hopkins, whose father, Harry, was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's closest White House adviser, was an 18-year-old Marine private first class when he was killed by a Japanese sniper's bullet in the Pacific. FDR had four sons. All served, and all faced enemy fire. Elliott Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew 300 combat missions. As a Marine in combat in the Pacific, his brother Jimmy earned a Navy Cross, along with a Silver Star, which Navy Lt.

Cmdr. Franklin Roosevelt Jr. did, as well, for saving the lives of his crew members under heavy enemy fire. Navy Lt. John Roosevelt won a Bronze Star.

Before he would become governor of Virginia and a U.S. senator, Chuck Robb was a young Marine lieutenant during two combat tours in Vietnam. Married to Lynda Bird Johnson, Robb, nearly a half-century later, remains the most recent son or son-in-law of an American president to go into combat.

Willie Mays, the most complete baseball player of his generation, was drafted into the Army and served. So did the reigning icon of American popular culture of the 1950s, Elvis Presley. Great American novelists Leon Uris and William Styron were both Marines. Baseball immortal Ted Williams gave up five years to be a Marine pilot in both World War II and Korea. Who else served in uniform? How about writers James Michener, Norman Mailer and Herman Wouk? Leading Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable and James Stewart, who flew 20 combat missions? Joe Louis, boxing's heavyweight champion, joined the Army. Among those facing enemy fire were future U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford.

There was a time when even influential Americans were actually willing, if not eager, to put country ahead of career, ambition and personal safety. This is not nostalgia; this is actual semi-recent history. There was a time, let us remember, when Americans' personal commitment to military service involved much more than the cheap symbol of a flag pin on a lapel or a "Support Our Troops" bumper sticker on an SUV.

History has painfully taught us that the strength of a nation is measured by the will and resolve of that nation's people to stand together for the common good through across-the-board individual sacrifice. Don't know about you, but I haven't seen a whole lot of that lately.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... I protested the Vietnam War, and stood for the Draft. I have a life saving luck, and not a win the lotto luck. I drew a high number, and the war was about done; and I trust my government was even then too smart to try to make this round peg fit any square hole.
I was not unpatriotic, but I would have been better defending the Vietnamese right to self determination, than fighting against it.
Sir;... Organizations, forms, if you will, all rot, and all rot from the top down. When the leaders in society preach a morality they will not themselves adhere to, when they will run for office, and drum the nation into war, but will not rally to the fight, our core is empty, and we will cave in.
It is impossible to say that Rome died of disease, ennui, or depopulation. When they could have made their citizens strong, they instead made their wealthy wealthier. Their wealth presented a prize for the first morally healthy society to bust through their shell of arms, and take Rome.
Consider Morals as the equal of Morale. As you judge the physical condition of an army as its physic, you judge its spiritual strength by it Morale. Our national morale is weak, and almost dead. Where is the spirit of Justice that once did guide us? Where is the democracy that made the people the Law? We have no common goal, nor common condition. Anyone saying they love this people is like a child saying he loves two parents who hate each other. We cannot be but torn by the national tragedy growing in our mutual enmity.
I only admire the intelligence of any young man careful of his life enough to not place his future in the hands of idiots and sadists. Our miltary has more often won on the force and quality of arms than on the intelligence and insight of her officers. We have had too many Washingtons, too many Stone Walls, too many Grants, too many Hookers, too many Eisenhours, too many lackluster Generals gaining their office by mere efficiency in bureaucracy. Thomas H. Jackson was an idiot who excelled at some basic skills essential to war, and above all, at killing people on both sides.
Not one of our generals gets that the object of the military is to win the prize without the fight. Thank God those fools did not get my hide in their hands. And yet the stink of hypocracy is on anyone having not served who demands service, and even devotion from an army of the increasingly financially hopeless, and in many respects mercenary. The less reason people have to fight for their country for the blessings it bestows upon them, the more driven they are to enlist.
With that said; everyone, from child to grandmothers ought to study war, self defense and survival skills. I cannot see this people lasting twenty years without civil war. The vile hatred that is goading us from above will some day result in slaughter. It is nothing better than what we saw before the American Civil War, and our old scars have not healed. We are as much a house divided, and our enmity is pure, and its purity is prized.
I think violent conflict is all the more inevitable because we are unconscious of its approach; and that is all the more reason for those people with a voice to be careful that death does not grow from the seeds of their words. We can love once more, and find our common thread. We can weave ourselves together again in a more perfect union. We will never do so while the larve of the press smear their bile on us to digest us before we are quite dead.
We are not so different as alike. We can all be here alive. The murder behind the muttering does not have to carry us off brain first into the toilet of history. We can resist, and must.
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Nov 21, 2014 9:23 AM
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Fri Nov 21, 2014 7:48 PM
Comment: #3
Posted by: Masako
Fri Nov 21, 2014 7:50 PM
Re: Masako;... Sir; I disagree, and then digress in overlong and rambling fashion, and disagree some more. Take that!
Comment: #4
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Nov 21, 2014 8:13 PM
Comment: #5
Posted by: Masako
Sat Nov 22, 2014 8:05 PM
Comment: #6
Posted by: Masako
Sat Nov 22, 2014 8:07 PM
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