Runyon: Setting Politics Aside on Veterans Day
On Wednesday morning, a large and enthusiastic crowd lined several blocks of Main Street to celebrate our nation’s veterans. There was a joyous spirit. Men and women across a wide spectrum of age and race cheered, waved American flags and saluted those who have served their country in war and peace.
From a pair of bucket trucks, city workers showered the crowd with red, white and blue confetti. A bipartisan trio of elected officials — Mayor Greg Fischer, Congressman John Yarmuth and Gov.-elect Matt Bevin — marched side-by-side. Bevin promised to replicate Mayor Fischer’s successful efforts to find shelter for homeless vets across Kentucky.
The winds of political wars that blew through Kentucky this year briefly subsided.
How different the spirit in America was 45 years ago, when the war in Vietnam bitterly divided the nation in ways that seem only now to be healing. In recent days I have been reading a new biography of Mary McGrory, one of the great political columnists of the 20th Century, by John Norris. McGrory appeared regularly in the Louisville newspapers for 40 years before her death in 2004.
She was a fierce opponent of the war who contributed more than a little to the bitter spirit that rankled both sides. McGrory’s skills as a reporter placed her in a category above a mere polemicist. She would sit through long committee hearings on Capitol Hill and write incisively about the participants. Her coverage of the Watergate hearings won her a Pulitzer Prize.
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The antiwar period, which lasted the better part of a decade between 1965 and 1975, was in many ways a generational collision: between those who grew up during the Great Depression and fought World War II and in Korea, and their children, the Baby Boomers, who in many ways the were the most privileged, best educated and most restless generation yet.
They grew up on the Mickey Mouse Club, the Beatles and JFK’s Camelot. They would provide the engine for the Civil Rights Movement. And they questioned their elders in ways youth had never done before.
There were excesses. The anti-military mood seemed to spill into every part of society. Police and soldiers — symbols of authority — became the targets of anger.
Mary McGrory was a pied piper for the kids — and for the elders who shared her view that the war was wrong. It has taken nearly a half century to move this nation beyond those wounds. The Greatest Generation, my parents’ generation, is elderly now and dying off. The boomers are moving into retirement with worries of their own, but also fears of international threats that unite rather than divide us.
There are plenty of causes for dissent and disagreement. But this Veterans Day was a fresh reminder of the things that bind us together.
Keith Runyon is a longtime Louisville journalist and former editorial page editor for The Courier-Journal. His commentaries run every Friday on 89.3 WFPL and wfpl.org.