Memorial Day Griping, Two Flavors

Yesterday, I went to Arlington to visit my father’s grave. He served as a medic in Korea and died when I was three in a truck accident. I would have liked to compare memories of Korea; his during wartime and mine in the 90’s. I put flowers on his grave and, even though I don’t believe in an afterlife, I told his spirit that Mom missed him, as she wanted me to do. At least, he was spared having to find out I was gay.

From Arlington I went to the Mall to the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial (the Wall). I was horrifed by what I saw.

  1. There were many people there, tourists, I assume, who were snapping pictures of grieving folks, who were laughing and acting as if they were at a picnic instead of an area dedicated to fallen soldiers. The lack of respect for the dead sickened me. On Memorial Day, of all days, you should be as silent as church and certainly give people in pain their privacy.

2)What’s the deal with the Wall and bikers? Of the vets of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf, only the Vietnam generation seemed to draw so many gray, longhaired, unwashed bikers who claimed to be vets. I absolutely believe in our military and respecting our vets, but I had no idea of what to make of these middle-aged men who seemed to present themselves as objects of pity, especially the one guy in a tiger cage, dressed in VC black pajamas, and asking for donations to “help bring back our POW/MIAs.” I work with Vietnam vets and the guys I know are all well-dressed professionals with nary a leather jacket or unwashed ponytail among them. It seemed to me that these guys at the Wall might have been “wanna-bes,” men who didn’t see
combat, but pretend to experiences they didn’t have and honors they didn’t earn to get sympathy for their wasted lives. This widespread phenomenon is discussed in * Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History*, by B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. I can’t think of anything more disgraceful than using another man’s blood and sacrifice to get cheap pity and a few bucks, like the guys running The Last Firebase, a long-running scam in front of the Lincoln Memorial that was exposed in the Washington City Paper.

So you, personally, happen to work - to work, mind you - with Vietnam veterans who are all buttoned-down, so you assume that anyone who doesn’t dress like that must not be a Vietnam veteran?

Well, I protest a lot with people wearing hippie and punk clothes. So everyone who doesn’t wear hippie/punk must not be a member of the anti-neoliberal movement!

Do you think it might possibly be that Vietnam veterans as a group might not be stylistically homogeneous?

No, of course not, but what I do notice in the veterans in my family and the folks I work with is dignity and pride in themselves. The men I saw were posing for pictures and looking openly for sympathy, and somehow I didn’t see the same dignity and pride in these bikers. Is every longhaired guy who says he’s a vet faking? No, but something in what I saw yesterday seemed off to me.

Speaking as a vet, I agree with Matt 100% and think goboy should be ashamed of himself for making that generalization about the bikers.

Military service is an experience that never leaves you. I only put two-and-a-half years in the Navy, and I had a miserable time while in, but I’ve had experiences and learned things that will be with me for the rest of my life.

So, too, is it with other vets. Just because they’re bikers or lawyers or stockbrokers or criminals in jail doesn’t lessen their status as veterans. Not every vet chose to enter a profession such as yours. In fact, many of the biker vets I’ve had the privilege of knowing have made it their life’s work to help those vets who never really made the adjustment back to civilian life. Many of these vets have had problems with drugs and alcohol and are sober (and, in some cases for a long time), and help other vets with their addiction.

So, goboy, before you deride these men further by denying them their rightful status as vets, I suggest you talk to some of them. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something.


I have no comment on the second point you made, goboy, but I agree with you on the first. I saw the Vietnam Memorial about a year after it was dedicated on a junior high class trip to Washington. What I remember most is the gravity of the memorial and the feeling that it was a hallowed place. The thing I remember most is the silence that blanketed the area as we walked along the Wall and my mother and I looked for the names of some friends of my parents who died in Vietnam.

All around us friends and family members of the dead were reaching out, touching the names, and making their own peace with the loss of their loved ones. The area seemed holy in a way, and even as a 12 or 13 year old jackass I would no more have cut up or gotten boisterous in that area than I would have defecated on an altar.

Treating a shrine to those who fought and died for their country like a ball field or picnic ground is disgraceful and certainly deserving of a quiet comment or two directed toward the persons acting in such a fashion. If the slack-jawed gawkers were indeed taking photos of people grieving or otherwise remembering their loved ones like the mourners were part of the tour, well, my remedy for that would involve a frogmarch off to the side and a quick lesson in manners.

Just my $.02

Yer pal,


goboy…those bikers you saw have been at the memorial since I was a little girl. It’s the Rolling Thunder, and I remember seeing them driving down 95 on the way to DC every year. (My parents and I used to go to Delaware every Memorial Day weekend.)

They’ve earned their right to act however they want, IMO. They “act up” because they want to bring the last of the MIAs home. And if acting like they want sympathy does that, I don’t think they mind.

Just my $.02.

So, what you’re saying is that everybody who says he is a veteran IS a veteran, and that nobody pretends to something they did not earn? Good to know.

So this didn’t happen? Or any of this?
It’s because I DO respect veterans, and my father not least among them, that I ask questions and I wonder about the men I saw.

Thanks, Falcon. I know about the Rolling Thunder guys and I picked up some of their literature by the souvenir stands.

It’s also nice to know that you’ve got access to the discharge papers of everyone in the country who ever served in the military.


Did you even bother to check any of the links I provided? I support vets; I don’t like the idea of getting conned.

no, no one’s saying that. What they do seem to be saying is that you can’t tell by looking at some one, specifically at what they’re wearing.

Goboy, I hope your father left you his army boots because you have stepped SO deeply into it that hip waders might not save you.

Let’s just examine shall we? This is what you said in your O.P.

Okay then. Let’s shift words and perhaps enlighten you? I’ll just use bold face, and replace Vietnam era vets with another minority. Let’s see how you feel about your statement then, m’kay?

Have you any clue how narrowminded, racist and humanity-loathing your O.P. makes you seem? I’ve no clue if you truly are as such, but good lord.

If you insist that the people that surround you in your life must so rigidly conform to a visual depiction of Proper American Lifestyle, then that’s peachy. You go to a National Monument and have the unmitigated gall to call people who ( as MsRobyn has so astutely pointed out) struggle daily with the aftereffects of service cowards? Liars? POSEURS???

Your arms must be so very tired, for you paint humanity with such an immensely wide brush. I went to the first web site you linked, and I’ve no doubt but that the gentleman has indeed exposed fraud. Can’t argue with hard facts.

You provide us with no hard facts however in your O.P. Did you really ascertain the full military service record of every single man and woman at the Memorial yesterday who was NOT dressed in head-to-toe Gap clothing? You did? Really? Goodness me, fill us all in on the facts. Or, as some of us like to call it around here, "The Straight Dope ".

Thank god you didn’t see me and my children standing there quietly, showing respect. Me leading them by the hand. You might very well have gone screaming off to find the Park Police to have me arrested for kidnapping those poor Korean kids…since OBVIOUSLY all you have to do is LOOK at me and them, and somehow your incredible sense of humanity tells you everything you need to know at a glance. You’d know they weren’t my kids biologically, and I had my hands on them so…uh…I’d kidnapped them. Yeah, that’s it, just LOOK- that guy kidnapped those poor kids. Boy, you’ve got neat eyes :rolleyes:.

If by some chance you did NOT ascertain the full military service record of each and every person who was there dressed in more casual clothing and/or sitting on a motorcycle, then…uh… do you expect anyone with half a shred if intellect to give your whining any creedence at all?


Actually, goboy is both right and wrong. Mostly wrong, but still.

First things first. Yes, goboy, not everyone in the country wears Dockers. Lots and lots of people, including lots of Vietnam vets, look like bikers.

In your defense, perhaps you were overwhelmed by the sheer number of bikers. Probably more than you’ve ever seen in one place, and that is what made you question whether they are all vets. The numbers are because of the Rolling Thunder POW/MIA activities that Falcon mentioned. This is Rolling Thunder’s 14th year, and yeah, it’s become pretty big. Last year, there were 250K bikes, and the early count this year was bigger, even with the rain.

So it’s not that a bunch of biker-looking guys were pretending to be vets, or even that most vets look like bikers, but rather a disproportionate number of the vets who were in Washington that weekend were bikers, because of the event.

Here’s the part where you are right. Rolling Thunder is starting to turn a little bit into a party, at least a few participants either are not vets (or there for the vets, if they themselves did not serve) or even if they are, are more interested in a biker party than they are of keeping the POW/MIA issue in front of the government. The organizers are aware of this, and are doing what they can to keep the focus in the right place.

Rest assured, though, that the number of schemers is tiny. And anyone who was found out to be scamming people during Rolling Thunder or otherwise during the weekend – well, let’s just say that the Capitol Police would not be their primary worry!
[Edited by manhattan on 05-29-2001 at 12:38 PM]

I never knew your dad and at 3 years old, you only know what others have told you about him. I would just like to suggest that maybe you should give him a bit more credit. Maybe there wouldn’t have been any bad or sad feeling to be spared. Maybe he would have loved you and been just as proud of you regardless of your sexual preferences. Just a thought.

Maybe it was due to the increased crowds and therefore an increase of idiots because of Memorial Day, but the few times I have been to the Wall there was a reverenced quiet and an overall feeling of respect. I was impressed by the behavior of others, but again, I was there when there wasn’t a lot of tourist. Still, crowds or no crowds, it isn’t an excuse for being an insensitive clod.

A lot of my clients are disabled Vietnam vets for which a small percent are the stereotypical long-haired biker, others are homeless, others are wealthy businessmen, but despite their disabilities nearly all of them are just your normal person who blends into the crowd.

Most of my clients suffering from severe PTSD don’t advertise. They don’t dress the part or walk the walk. Unless you were a close relative or someone in my position, you may not even know they were veterans, let alone someone who is suffering the result of their service.

There are a lot of “wanna-bes” looking for the status and sympathy as a Vietnam combat vet, it’s disgusting at how many don’t deserve the title. These are the same vets who sit across from my desk in their fatigues and pony-tails as I review their military service records that included nothing more than a 3 month stint sitting behind a typewriter in Texas before receiving a dishonorable discharge.

Thanks, Manhattan, for cluing me in and letting me know where I was wrong. My apologies to everyone I offended with my questions. Next time I’ll put “might have been” in
boldface to let people people know I’m questioning, not making a dogmatic statement of fact.

And now for Cartooniverse:

Racist? Where the hell did THAT come from? Cartooniverse, your rant is so off-base. I saw a huge number of bikers, I questioned whether they were all vets, I never said every guy there was faking. I raised the possibility. Manhattan set me straight. Yes, the number of bikers, plus having read Burkett’s book, really made me wonder what the hell was going on. In no way did I make a remark that could in any way be construed as racist. If you’re going to flame me, at least do it for some reason relevant to the OP.
Cartooniverse, here’s some Korean for you, yut mogura, shiphal kaesekiya!

Goboy doesn’t, but given enough identifying information, I do have access.

Maybe Goboy could have worded things better, but my experience as a disabled veteran counselor (and more specifically my additional duties as the Homeless Vet Rep) for the last 14 years has shown me that there are veterans who saw no war action or those non-vets who pass themselves off as disabled combat vets for nothing more than sympathy or notoriety. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Goboy’s disgust towards these people who ride the coat tails of those who truly deserve the honor.

what I was complaining about, and if I understand the other’s points as well, was not the so called ‘wannabes’ and so on, but goboys assumption that those he saw were said wannabes, merely based on what they looked like.

and that objection stands.

his ‘evidence’ presented consists of how they dressed.

You’re right wring (say that fast three times). :slight_smile:

Again, I think that Goboy should have worded things differently and not made assumptions based on appearances. Maybe I am coming from left field in my attempts to understand what he was trying to say and maybe I am giving him too much credit with my interpretation, but what I think he was trying to get across was basically the same feelings I have about those who pretend to be combat Vietnam veterans when in fact they have no right to claim the honor. It shows a huge dishonor and disrespect for those who right deserve it.

Again, I think he could have worded things differently and not have made such generalities, but it is true that appearance does play a small part.

Do all veterans dress in business suits with styled hair?

Hell no. Some dress like bikers. Some dress in fatigues. Some dress in Hawaiian shirts. Some dress in jeans. And in the case of three of my clients, some cross dress. You can not tell a Vietnam vet by his appearance. Period.

Do all “wanna-be” Vietnam combat vets look like the stereotypical biker or the military fatigue wearing pony-tailed vet?

Each and every one I have come across, without exception. What would be the point of the deception if they didn’t dress the part?

*Originally posted by wring *

Originally posted by Goboy

Interesting. Why would anyone respect a person who hides behind a phrase that most- NOTE that I did NOT say all- posters here do not understand? Surely I don’t. Oh, wait…I get it !!! I’m supposed to KNOW Hangul because my kids were BORN IN KOREA? <Guffaw>. God. Get off the computer and go get some fresh air. Or, more to the point- show some fucking balls and say what you have to say here in ENGLISH. I can take it. It’s the Pit, not Miss Manners.

You also did address this to me directly a short while ago

And yet, in the start of that very posting you did indeed admit that you’d made a more sweeping statement than perhaps you’d intended to. To wit:

C’mon, Goboy, suck it up and admit you painted with a broad stroke. It’s not the end of the world to admit you were a bit ham-fisted in a generalization.

Having said all of that, I must absolutely admit that I agree with Goboy’s response to poseurs. It is completely contemptible that anyone who did NOT serve would say that they had. It’s insulting to those who suffered or died for the country. No argument there, I just feel like you went a bit awry with the characterizations of the bikers.


Cartooniverse, I think he did suck it up and admit he was wrong–his objection to you is the specific charge of racism, which, frankly, was unfounded.

I was wrong. I do judge by appearances and make snap judgements, both of which are very bad qualities. I wrote in the OP, "It seemed to me that these guys at the Wall might have been “wanna-bes.” Yes, the thought occurred to me when I saw these guys asking for money and posing for pictures. I was wrong. Do I know who is and who isn’t genuine? Hell no, but I was wrong to have the thought, I guess.

Like Diane said, vets come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s no way to tell who or is not a vet by appearance, but poseurs always have the long hair and dirty jeans. And the thought that anyone there that day could be posing infuriated me. Again, I’m not saying anybody there wasn’t genuine, but I wondered about it. Nothing is lower than stealing somebody else’s blood and sacrifice.

I don’t handle emotions well. I don’t cry, ever. Yet, I’ve had to close my office door so nobody can see me. I kept thinking of my father yesterday, how disappointed he would have been in me if he had lived, how I wish I could be someone he could be proud of. I wish I didn’t have these feelings inside.

I shouldn’t have judged the bikers, I was wrong.
Sorry, **Cartooniverse, **, my fault for thinking you knew Korean. It translates as “Eat shit (pumpkin taffy, but it’s an idiom), you fucking son of a bitch.” The racism charge has no place here.