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

In 1976, Rep. Bill Cohen, who was a rising young Republican star, seriously considered running for the U.S. … Read More.

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Final Return of 2014

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When Money Speaks, the Truth Is Silent

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




12 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
I was literally sitting at my desk as company clerk in Fort Campbell when my birthday draft number was announced on the radio to be 362. A few months earlier, my draft board had a good chuckle. When asked if I was a conscientious objector, I said, "Yes, if you mean I conscientiously object to being shot!" Married with a child, I had taken a semester off from college to accumulate a few funds thinking that I was safe because of my familial situation. Wrong! I also had been a Berkeley student protesting the war, but not too loudly since my father was a thrice Silver Star recipient from service in two wars as a tank batalion commander and my brother was a Distinguished Flying Cross winner still flying out of Thailand. I'll never, ever, forget the laughter in the Orderly Room when the four students were shot in Kent State University, Ohio! I had to bit my tongue until it bled because I was rising fast in the ranks, and my family was relatively safe due to my status as permanent party in the US. To this day, however, I'm not sure if it would have been braver to go to Canada than it was to stay and be drafted. I don't know if I would have made the same decision today.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Mike Ohr
Sun Nov 23, 2014 8:40 AM
Mitt Romney, who was almost elected president has 4 big strapping sons.When a reporter asked one of them if he was going into the military he replied " I never even thought of it".Romney himself hid in a nunnery in France during his eligibility time during Vietnam. Romney never talked,discussed or in anyway mentioned the military to his sons.I did mine.This is the hypocrisy of republican/conservative leadership.I know Romney's sons paid attention when he placed $20 million in each sons 401k.$20 million the carpetbagger got from stealing working men's pensions. This country needs a National Service, not a volunteer army.This nation started from a citizens militia.Now its citizens no longer participate in any capacity.A National Service,obligatory,starting somewhere about 16 years old.Service in many different capacities,not just military,it could even be just more education.A method to help children grow up,appreciate what is here,and not be the nation of babies we raise to adulthood today.It could be a choice for highschoolers who would otherwise drop out.A real life education,service,job skills,life skills,careers military or otherwise.A real choice other than the useless general education we all get.
Comment: #8
Sun Nov 23, 2014 12:37 PM
Re: Mike Ohr, I gotta lifer friend in Fort Campbell, and the guy works hard too, and his wife spends it as fast as he sends it. Man if you are goin to have a dime you must learn to say no to her.
Any way, a sf friend of his recently retired told me of facing down a man over the Vietnam War on a flight no less, as this friend's father did three tours fighting in Vietnam. This guy can be intimidating, as all such people know how to be, and he told of having this old peace nik in tears, admitting that he only went to demonstrations to get laid.
I protested too. There is something about the smell of tear gas in the evening that always brings my first asthma attack to mind.
I knew some college kids at the time of Kent state, and they would say: There's going to be revolution. There has got to be revolution. I had already read too much of marx and lenin to ever think it would be as easy as a handful of dead kids on the grass making it happen. Kids were being killed right then and there all over the world, and some of them were ours. The kids didn't make them get out. The futility of it year after year finally dawned on them long after it had dawned in brighter minds.
We were them. We had more in common with those brown skinned squat to pee, poor as dirt Vietnamese, and we didn't buy the company excuses for killing them. They had us written all over them. People back then were not shy about expressing themselves about our hair, and raggy baggy fashion, or our politics. They let us know if battle lines were drawn they wouldn't miss us much. But it was small town. I am sure they have changed.
People had us in Vietnam for two reasons, neither of which was open to persuasion. Some were there for money. And some were there by the demands of their ideals. Their ideals told them you do that- and they acted as swiftly as robots. The whole thing stank. We were simply expected to obey. And Democratic defeat was very much to defeat civil action and protest.
Some one like Nixon should be dug up and shot for queering the peace deal LBJ was working on, only to settle for basically the same deal how many many dead people later. He was a candidate. He was a no body, a private citizen directly interfering in the foreign affairs of this country. It was treason. And those who elected Nixon did not like the illegal and antisocial nature of much of the anti war activity which was aimed at an illegal war we were forced to support against our will.
What we do for what ideals without consideration of what is involved is insanity, and this is true left and right. Do you want to go to the other side of the world and whip millions of people to agree with your point of view? What is that going to take? Who is going to make the sacrifice and pay the price? Vietnam was a victory. Communism could never afford such a cost. But who thinks we could afford it, that for the sake of the defeat of people who could easily have been made our friends we should have paid such a price, and suffered such a rise in the police state?

We see the excuse of conflict used always to increase police powers. The government can look at me all they want, but I object to the waste of time of watching me waste my time. The more money they have for such nonsense, the closer entitlements and the civil rights of the whole people must give way. Rights are expensive, and we cannot afford war and civil rights.
Look at your history. Tyranny and world conquest go hand in hand. Who will not fear will secure their rear. The idea has never been about how to kill rich kids. They don't really care how many of us they kill and use to kill more of them who have everything almost in common with us. One of those smart ass commies said once that a war is a gun with a working man on both ends of it. I agree.
If I may tell you a personal story. My older brother was eighty percent paralysed. There was nothing wrong with his mouth except some times he didn't know how to shut it up. After his mouth got my butt beat enough for one life, I never again liked a fight that wasn't mine. I never had nothing against fighting. I only needed my own reason.
If America ever does come up with a fight we can all agree is our own, and that we are willing to keep on it to the extent of our lives, I doubt we will have trouble winning it. To follow nonsense ideals into war. To follow profit into war that you can only get about half the people to support on a good day is futility with a death frosting.
Comment: #9
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Nov 23, 2014 9:46 PM
Re: WILLIAM KELLEY;... It would be worth a study to see the effect of the CCC and others such programs on the later building of our military for WWII. My father was raised close to the land, was touched by some social programs during the depression, ate better than many with an occasional woodchuck for protein. He told me once of the physical weakness of children raised with hunger and malnutrition. They were not fed, were not active, and were not muscular. My father was average, but very strong, and very determined and intelligent. But think of all of the physical training, exercise, regimentation, socialization, and experience associated with Jobs the CCC performed, and they were fed. We need that.
Some of our kids need mandatory service and a physical. They need jobs they can't refuse and experience they would never otherwise get. Everyone needs to learn to be a cop and spend time at it. Everyone needs to work the sewers and sewage treatment plants, and ditto for water. Everyone should learn to fight and be a soldier, and those with the apptitude and desire should work and train themselves into officers. Our professional military has been a bust. Grant was a dull knife. MacArther beat the Japanese who he understood, and failed againt the Chinese who he did not understand. These men, if I am not wrong are all graduated as engineers. Some of the better ones worked the math of war constantly. People can learn math. They need to learn teamwork.
America's citizen soldiers, up to the level of sargents are the army to me. Any good sargent could be a great general, and not a fraction of officers could ever have succeeded at that level. And what I said of hooker before, I must retract. He did go on from failure to do fair service in the Army of the Cumberland. He was not a good corp commander. He ran when his generals said fight. He should have been the man who said fight when his generals said run.
Comment: #10
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Nov 23, 2014 10:16 PM
Re: WILLIAM KELLEY One small correction: Willard has FIVE strapping sons. In 2008, when he was asked if his sons considered military service, he replied they were serving the country by working on his campaign.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Bruce Strickland
Tue Nov 25, 2014 5:42 AM
Re: Bruce Strickland;... What a way to dodge a bullet. They should hand that excuse out to cops and soldiers. Forget the twenty pounds of body armor. Just carry that excuse with you, and you're safe.
I'd like to fight; but my daddy won't let me. Your daddy's got a point. If you are only good for drawing fire, you may as well stay the hell out of the way.
Comment: #12
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Nov 25, 2014 8:02 AM
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