Although delivered calmly, the Veterans' Day address by Hank Mayer, a retired lieutenant-colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, minced no words as he delivered numerous jabs in several directions.
More than 100 people attended the downtown ceremony on Madison St. in front of American Legion Post 43.
Mayer, of rural Decatur, a native Mississippian who served 20 years in the USMC, took on not only those around the world who violently oppose the United States, but also civilian leaders at home and anyone who is disrespectful of the U.S. flag or other national symbols.
He was commendatory of all U.S. veterans and of Decatur and Adams County for strong support of the nation's military services, especially as shown by Adams Central High School's annual Veterans' Day observance and the "huge turnout" to honor U.S. Army staff sergeant Phillip Jenkins, a Decatur native killed in Iraq in September.
Mayer pointed out that the U.S. has been at peace for fewer than 100 years in its 235 years of existence, counting everything from mobilizations for two world wars down to such incidents as U.S. attacks in Grenada, Somalia, Panama, loss of life in Lebanon, and the seizing or damaging of U.S. Navy ships named Mayaguez, Pueblo, Liberty, and Cole.
He noted that Jenkins' death "brings home the reality of war to a new generation in Adams County" and added that he and his wife, Coni, will see their son, Matt, a Marine Corps second lieutenant, enter the Afghanistan war zone in January.
Mayer said veterans who experienced combat "rarely receive the recognition they deserve. We need to recognize those veterans and thank them for the sacrifice. Only those veterans who have survived combat ever fully understand the experience. They have done their duty under the worst of conditions and it falls to the rest of us to honor their service and do everything in our power to assist those in need to recover from the physical and mental wounds of battle."
He also remembered the ten times larger number of veterans who never see combat, but are just as important because they "provide everything necessary for those actually engaged to carry the day" by fighting. "At no time in history has a military force ever been successful without the vital logistical support that sustains the fighters. Fighters get most of the pain and glory; logisticians get the blame," he said.
Widening his focus, Mayer made the point that the U.S. has not had a formally-declared war since World War II, although "our politicians have not been reluctant in sending our young men and women into harm's way" ever since.
Furthermore, he said, U.S. civilian leaders "have often imposed upon our forces rules of engagement that are very detrimental to winning a fight and often favor the enemy. The purpose of these rules is to reduce civilian casualties and collateral damage, but it results in increased U.S. casualties. This is misguided.
"Civilian casualties and collateral damage should be avoided if the commander on the scene can do so without endangering his troops or mission. Politicians and State Department officials in Washington, D.C. should not make policies that endanger our troops and diminish their abiliity to succeed on the battlefield. They do this regularly and show little inclination to stop."
Mayer spoke in favor of "total war," as was done in World War II, saying "no effort was spared to defeat the enemy and little was done to avoid civilian targets or inflicting massive casualties on enemy forces. The war ended with the 'unconditional surrender' of our enemies and we haven't heard a peep out of them since."
The Korean War, he said, is "technically not over" and "this policy grew progressively worse in Vietnam. Both of these wars would probably have resulted in military victories without the influence of incoherent policies put in place by incompetent politicians lacking the intestinal fortitude to finish what they started."
In Vietnam, Mayer stated, the U.S. won militarily, but lost politically as that war was "royally messed up by those in Washington."
He continued his theme by saying, "This same failed policy continues today in Afghanistan and Iraq. The rules of engagement endanger our troops and give advantage to the enemy. Those on active duty cannot question the civilian leadership of the military without risking their careers. I can and do question these policies that kill and injure our soldiers needlessly.
"I fully support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and would like to win them for the sake of the people living there and for our security,"
Mayer declared that one major problem is that far too few political leaders have military experience. In 1981, he said, 73 of the 100 U.S. senators and 270 of the 435 U.S. representatives were veterans; today, just 23 senators and 94 representatives are vets. He said he has heard that only nine children of the 535 people in Congress now serve in the military.
He went on to urge that many more veterans seek elected public offices so their experiences can be used to benefit the nation and its people.