I thank her for her attention. But Elizabeth, the military is all around us everyday. They are either coming, going, working or living right where we do. They are in the active components and the guard and the reserve. They are not just in the service. They are also members of the police force, the fire departments, the EMTs, and many other organizations that do their part each and every day.
Even in the leagues of military veterans one can still find those that served and never got to the theatre of conflict. For what ever reason, they were excluded from that task—often with heavy hearts for not having done so. Be that as it may, each and every of those referenced above should be thanked at every opportunity—they were there (then or now) when it counted.
I can remember very well that “Central Park or walking up Broadway constitutes a spectacle” as you call it. I, as a member of the Army, experienced that reaction albeit from the opposite side on more than several occasions—a few even in Central Park (and the surrounding area) as I spent many lunch hours there watching New York go by while advising units and personnel in the New York City area some years ago when I was stationed at West Point myself..
I have even had people while waiting their turn at a red light walk off the curb right up to my vehicle window, reach in, shake my hand and say: “We’re behind you all the way.”
I don’t believe it is as much an act of atonement as it is an act of pride in their fellow man and what this country stands for.
I will go so far as to answer the question you were fuzzy on: “Whether anyone ever spat on a U.S. soldier returning from Vietnam is a matter of debate.” I was spat on as a member of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University my junior year while marching in downtown during one of our semiannual corps trip to Houston. Even though I wasn’t a returning soldier from Vietnam, I was a cadet at Texas A&M University and the closest thing those war protestors in Houston had at the time. That was a long time ago and I choose to not recall it if not forced to do so.
Just recently, after many years after my service in the Army ended and this past spring while sitting in the gallery of the Texas House of Representatives taking in the back and forth discord on a day that the Legislature also chose to acknowledge the Police Chiefs of Texas, I was astonished to receive this very same salute. As a group of the chiefs departed, the Chief of Hutto’s (just north of Austin) police force chose to stop on his way out and “thank me for my service” and shake my hand. I was not in uniform and had no military look about me (to my knowledge at least—olive drab does remain my favorite color and my wife continually chastises me for picking new clothes in only that color). Maybe I just looked the part to him. I thanked him right back and was proud to have done so.
While I do not specifically agree with the main point you make in your piece; I still thank you for your attention.