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Published: Friday, 4/11/2014 - Updated: 8 months ago

COMMENTARY

Child teaches lesson in respect for veterans

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Updated 7:43 a.m.

Every cognizant person in Toledo has heard of Myles Eckert, the boy who gave $20 to an Air Force National Guard officer in a Maumee Cracker Barrel.

His story has warmed many hearts, and Myles and his mom have become celebrities. They have appeared on CBS and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. They met former President George W. Bush. And they got a police escort from one New York City airport to another.

I visited recently with Myles and his mom, as well as Lt. Col. Frank Dailey, the recipient of the $20. We met at Cracker Barrel. Ms. Eckert wanted to talk about her late husband, Sgt. Andy Eckert, and the Snowball Express. I thank her for that.

The Snowball Express is a nonprofit that reaches out to Gold Star children — kids whose parents were U.S. military and died in war. Among other good works, it takes Gold Star kids to Texas for a four-day holiday. They go to Six Flags and consume a lot of sugar. It’s great. They keep it simple.

Tiffany Eckert is raising funds for Snowball Express. And a company out of Texas, Highland Capital, has pledged to match up to $1 million.

There are different ways to tell the same story. On the day we talked, Ms. Eckert seemed to be suggesting that this story be told through Andy Eckert.

Andy Eckert, who went to war and made it home and then volunteered to go back.

Andy Eckert, who never got to know his children.

Andy Eckert, who went to war so you and I and our sons and daughters didn’t have to go to war.

It’s a very small sliver of the American population that fights and dies in our wars. They lay down their lives for their friends, while the rest of us stay home and shop.

There is something impossibly noble about people like Andy Eckert, and something very wrong with just a few of us carrying the load of national defense.

Alexis de Tocqueville said a mercenary army corrodes a democracy.

The latest federal budget deal, cut in Washington, reduces veterans’ benefits, albeit slightly. We need federal pension reform, I grant you. But this cut is for vets who have come home and retired, not vets of the future. Who does this? Who breaks a solemn vow made to men and women who put it all on the line for you and me?

A fine local charity, Veterans Matter, is dedicated to finding homes for homeless vets. It has targeted about 60,000 of them. Coincidentally, that is roughly the number of men and women, who have worn the uniform, who are homeless on any given night in this country. Shame on us.

Myles used a phrase I like very much: “Thank you for your service.” When you see men and women in uniform, in airports or coffee shops, go up to them and say it. It means a lot. Most of us have vets in our families we have never thanked. It’s not too late.

Second, we need universal national service — at least one year for everyone. Wars fought by a few of us for the rest of us are too easy to start, too hard to finish, and too easy to put out of mind — along with those who bleed in them.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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