Before Thanksgiving, an airplane captain allowed a family to depart the plane first, telling the passengers that they had somewhere important to be. As this family departed the aircraft, they were booed and heckled without mercy. Passengers openly exclaimed that they could not believe they had paid all this money only to be forced to wait for a single family. What none of these people considered, however, was where this family needed to be. They were allowed to depart early so that they could catch a connecting flight to meet the body of their son, who had perished in combat in Afghanistan.
When I first read about the treatment of this gold star family, I was shocked, appalled and incensed. In the death of this soldier, that family lost a father, a brother and a son. In the death of this soldier, the nation lost a gallant public servant who answered the call to duty and made the ultimate sacrifice for the republic. I wish that I could write that this was an isolated incident; that cold-hearted and inconsiderate people like those outraged passengers are a rarity in this society. Unfortunately, that is simply not the reality.
The reality is that we live in an era where public service is made a mockery of and, sometimes, where the sacrifices made by others are not honored. If you need any more evidence, look no further than President-elect Donald Trump, who derided the Kahn family and attempted to compare the sacrifices that he made in business with the same sacrifice that the Kahn family made.
While Mr. Trump did attempt to walk-back those comments, the damage was already done. Trump’s attempt to level with the Kahn family represents the problem with America’s perception of public service. It is easy to criticize those who have given their lives both in a figurative and literal sense to the republic. What they do not recognize, however, is that many of the people in public service have made sacrifices. They have sacrificed personal gain and financial success for a greater purpose. Instead of using their great talents to purchase massive homes, foreign cars and other amenities that their abilities could easily net them, they have chosen to live a more modest lifestyle so that they can serve, rather than be served.
While these sacrifices should certainly be considered, all Americans should show nothing but the utmost respect to those who have given their lives serving the republic. Being a soldier or a member of the armed forces is the pinnacle of public service, and it is one of the most noble pursuits in life. Many of us will probably never understand what it is like to serve in the armed services. But to those who have served and fallen, the least we can do is show respect and make an attempt to understand. Americans need to understand why they answered the call to service and what they made the ultimate sacrifice for.
What those people did on that plane is inexcusable. Americans, however, should not let that define them. The vast majority of people respect those who have dedicated their lives to public service and who have fallen in that pursuit. However, it is becoming more and more clear that a culture of misunderstanding and disrespect has begun to fester in the United States. As the torch is on the verge of being passed to our generation, we have a responsibility to uphold the strong tradition of respect and reverence. However, we should not simply be content with maintaining the status quo, for all things in life can certainly be improved. While it will be difficult, we should not shy from this challenge. Therefore, I call to you, in the words of Lord Tennyson, “Come my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.”