The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 28, 2012

Thanking an imperfect military in an imperfect world

By Scott Mooneyham for the SNAP

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 — RALEIGH - During this Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful of the nation's military families that have sacrificed so much over the last decade.

During this decade of war, in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been many public expressions of gratitude for the military. At times, the standing ovations seem almost rote, to the point that you wonder what those being honored think about the recognition.

More recently, the escapades of a few generals have led to different thoughts about those who inhabit the top ranks of our military.

A novelist, Lucian Truscott IV, who happens to be the grandson of a World War II-era general, wrote a column about Gen. David Petraeus entitled, “Phony Hero for a Phony War.”

The column, appearing in the New York Times, characterized Petraeus as a strutting peacock. It implied that he and his fellow generals were responsible for prolonging the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Truscott contrasted current-day military leaders with those of World War II, “the kind of men, who as it was said at the time, chewed nails for breakfast, spit tacks at lunch and picked their teeth with their pistol barrels.”

His characterization doesn’t jibe with what I’ve seen, over the last 25 years, as a working journalist in North Carolina who happens to live just down the road from Fort Bragg.

In professional settings – and maybe more importantly, in social settings that typically involve school, Scouts or our kids’ sporting events – I see and have gotten to know military officers who are surely the brightest, most knowledgeable, most professional military leaders ever.

The description of World War II officers also doesn’t jibe with the one whom I knew growing up, my great-uncle Lewis.

Col. Lewis Curry was commander of the 36th Fighter Group and flew over 200 missions in P-47 fighter-bombers over Europe, most involving bombing-strafing runs on rail yards, artillery emplacements and armored columns.

My soft-spoken, tinkering, gadget-loving great-uncle never said much to me about the war.

But while trying to convince me to give up smoking, when in my 20s, he did impart a tale of how he had done so, in post-war Germany.

Destitute Germans, he said, would follow him around on the street, waiting to nab his discarded cigarette butts. Seeing him smoking, they would offer to trade family heirlooms for a pack of smokes.

Knowing that some of his men were doing just that, he quit. He said he needed to set an example for his men.     

In a way, it was a small thing. It certainly wasn't chewing nails.

It was leadership, of a kind that isn't so apparent today, at any level of society.

Perhaps David Patraeus’ failings are symptomatic of a greater leadership crisis, but if so, they are hardly confined to the military.

So, on this Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful for the nation’s military, while recognizing that they and the rest of us aren’t perfect and never have been, but that maybe we all should  strive to be a bit more.