Television is about to begin an annual event of honoring our nation’s veterans and — with approximately 900 World War II veterans dying each day — it can’t come a moment too soon.
At 7 p.m. CST Sunday, PBS and Capital Concerts (the company responsible for the “A Capitol Fourth” and “National Memorial Day Concert” programs) will inaugurate “National Salute To Veterans,” bringing attention to the accomplishments, sacrifice and struggles of America’s 22 million veterans.
In some ways TV and veterans are a perfect match. In other ways, the pairing is ironic.
Certainly, familiar TV late-night hosts help us drift off to dreamland, as our brave service people keep us safe and help us sleep better at night. And despite charges of particular channels “leaning” one way or another politically, there is no argument that TV would be more propaganda-heavy if Hitler’s Nazi Germany had won World War II and launched his Thousand Year Reich. Tired of the annual airing of “It’s A Wonderful Life”? What if there were mandatory showings of “Triumph of the Will,” Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 paean to the Master Race? The commercials would probably chirp, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, a Luftwaffe pilot gets his wings.”
On the other hand, the idea of veterans and their families gathering around the “electronic hearth” to enjoy “National Salute To Veterans” is decidedly poignant, when, on any given night, 300,000 veterans are living on the streets or in a shelter.
The juxtaposition of TV and veterans is ironic when you think of television’s emphasis on speed. TV sings the praises of “30 minutes or less” pizza, next-day package delivery and “up-to-the-minute” traffic reports — yet millions of veterans find their disability claims backlogged for a year or more.
TV offers us a dizzying array of 500 channels. Our heroic veterans were given the simple choice of “Do or die!”
TV has no shortage of no-talent celebrities who are famous just for being famous. We buy the tabloids, tune in gossip shows and hang on their every tweet. But if a veteran modestly recounts his role in liberating a village, we’re suddenly into “Oh, no, here’s another of Grandpa’s war stories” territory.
Our military personnel are trained to respond with “Sir — yes, sir!” TV subjects viewers to legions of surly, disrespectful sitcom kids. These wisecracking youngsters are exaggerations, but there is a kernel of truth about declining discipline and civility.
“National Salute To Veterans” will be competing with NBC’s “Football Night In America,” a favorite of many vets and their families. I hope millions will either cut away to the veterans salute or watch on a delayed basis. I can’t help but think how many veterans missed out on a professional sports career or other physically demanding job because of their combat injuries.
The success of “National Salute To Veterans” is important, not only for saluting the past but preparing for the future. Would as many youngsters aspire to careers in sports or entertainment if there were no Oscars, no Grammies, no tribute albums, no Rookie of the Year award?
Similarly, if we consign our veterans to the dustbin of history, why should the next generation care about risking their comfort and their lives to keep America free?
Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”