Old Army Buddies
The Lasting Bonds of the Last Draftees
By Michael R. Auslin
Sunday, May 24, 2009
A few years ago, my father suddenly announced that he wanted to give a substantial sum of money to someone who had fallen on hard times. The intended recipient of this charity, which was not insignificant for our family, was not a relative, a neighbor or a work colleague. It was one of my dad's old buddies from his Army service in the 1950s, who was ill and in need of help. I still remember being amazed that my father could feel such empathy for someone with whom he had served in peacetime nearly half a century earlier. Yet for him, helping a former comrade in arms was a sacred charge.
Today, as a new Greatest Generation emerges in Iraq and Afghanistan, a unique Ameri can species is beginning to disappear: the Old Army Buddy, the men who served in the U.S. armed forces in the 1950s and early '60s. They were the soldiers who protected American interests at the height of the Cold War, yet for the most part never fired a shot in combat. Most of those remaining are now past 70, and when they go, so will the last links to an era of mandatory national service that helped shape mid-20th-century America.
From the 1940s through the early 1970s, a generation of Americans accepted compulsory military service as a responsibility of citizenship. In war and in peace, Americans of different economic classes and ethnicities served together, forming relationships that lasted a lifetime, even when the vets had little else in common. With today's all-volunteer force, our military is more professional, but the mixing of different groups has diminished, and American society has lost the sense of the virtue of national service.
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