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Happy Veteran’s Day

Happy Veteran’s Day to all the people who’ve honorably served their country. I spent three years playing in an Army Band, stationed in New York City — on Fort Wadsworth, underneath the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

If nothing else, my time in the military taught me how ridiculous it is that I could serve in the Army yet was not trusted enough to drink alcohol. We were considered mature enough to kill or be killed (theoretically, of course — I was in the band) but not mature enough to drink a beer. We could drink anywhere on base, even at the base bar. But take one step off the military base and once more we were children, or at least treated that way. It was extraordinarily frustrating, and to say we were getting mixed messages would be an understatement. I recall quite clearly feeling a sense of being underappreciated at the time. I can only imagine that the young soldiers shipping off to Iraq and Afghanistan feel that same way even more acutely, especially given the far greater risks they’re taking.

In our day room at the band building in New York — a former Civil War-era hospital actually — there was a soda machine. For two quarters it dispensed a can of beer. It was nothing special mind you, something like Rheingold or Schmidt’s, a late 1970s regional brand. But it was right there in the room where we spent most of our down time when we either weren’t rehearsing or in our rooms. Did we binge? Hardly ever, actually. Except for the lifers, most of us were college age. Yet even though there was beer, dirt cheap, staring us in the face most of our day, we rarely overindulged. When it was there all the time it was just commonplace, it wasn’t something we thought too much about. We had a beer when it made sense, on the weekends, after a particularly long day. While there was the occasional exception, we acted responsibly the majority of the time.

To me, this is the strongest argument for lowering the drinking age to match the age of conscription. We at least owe the men and women putting their lives on the line for you and me the same rights and privileges that we old folk enjoy. It just isn’t fair to ask so much of them, to give them the responsibility of adults and then withhold the rewards, so to speak. There’s always a “but” from the neo-prohibitionists at this point in the argument but it never rings true. It’s a simple quid pro quo. We ask soldiers for adult behavior and responsibility. We should be willing give them all the benefits to which they’re not only entitled but have so admirably earned.

This book from WW II cracks me up. What an odd pair to be the subject of a book.

Now this is the original “Stars and Bars.”


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