St. Louis Post-Dispatch Columnist: 'Most Veterans Did Nothing Heroic,' and Are Undeserving of Military Funeral Honors

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan is mighty proud of himself this week. Today, he wrote that the negative response to a column he wrote on Wednesday ("One last call to service – end military funeral honors") is "pig heaven for an attention-craving columnist." The porcine parallel McClellan made seems more than appropriate in the circumstances.

You see, Budget-cutter Bill is either too dense to realize or doesn't care that his cost-cutting suggestion to end all military funeral honors except for "men and women killed in combat" would disqualify someone he specifically cited as a hero who was not killed in combat as deserving of such treatment. But first, some lowlights from McClellan's original column (HT The Blaze; bolds are mine throughout this post):


Since the (Missouri Military Funeral Honors) program began ... in 1999, more than 114,000 veterans have received these honors. The program has been averaging 729 funerals a month.

According to the program’s website, it is funded by the federal government and the Missouri National Guard Trust Fund.

Both the federal government and the state government are broke. So why are we providing military funeral honors for all veterans? It is a nice gesture we can’t afford.

Certainly, men and women killed in combat deserve full military honors. It’s a way for the country to say, “We honor the memory of those who died in our service.” These military honors — and the thought behind them — are intended to provide some solace for the families of the fallen.

But what about the guy who spends a couple of years in the military and then gets on with his life? Bear in mind that most veterans did nothing heroic. They served, and that’s laudable, but it hardly seems necessary to provide them all with military honors after they have died.

Well, what about those who incurred serious service-connected disabilities as a result of their "non-heroic" service? (The level of disability claims has from all appearances gotten completely out of control, but that's a separate topic. I'm discussing veterans with legitimate and provable physical and mental injuries resulting from their service.)

And as to everyone else who joins the military, that decision is reflective of "a person who, in the opinion of others (or at least others not named Bill McClellan), has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal," in this sense: Everyone who joins knows that there is a chance they could be placed in harm's way to defend their country, depending on world events and circumstances -- and they join anyway, usually at considerable personal inconvenience. Therefore, that decision, Bill, is heroic, even if the dangers are often underestimated by those who join.

In his follow-up column, without any indication that he was potentially contradicting himself, McClellan described someone who he seems to believe should get full honors:

Doubling down on the argument for ending military funeral honors

So I wrote that men and women killed in combat deserve full military honors. “But what about the guy who spends a couple of years in the military and then gets on with his life? Bear in mind that most veterans did nothing heroic. They served, and that’s laudable, but it hardly seems necessary to provide them all with military honors after they have died.”

That set people off. “Despicable! Everybody who puts on a uniform is a hero. When they sign their name on the dotted line, they are giving the government a blank check, and blah, blah, blah. You owe our veterans an apology.”

Nonsense. I stand by every word I wrote.

I am my own best example. I flunked out of college and was drafted into the Marine Corps. I went to Vietnam. I did nothing heroic. Nor did any of my close friends. But I knew people who did, and it devalues the real heroes to say that everybody was one. If everybody is a hero, nobody is.

I sometimes write about heroes. Maybe you remember Jerry Abbenhaus. He was a Chaminade graduate. He joined the Marines and was a machine gunner. One day his unit was ambushed and Abbenhaus was able to safely reach cover. But when another Marine was hit by a North Vietnamese machine gun, Jerry rose to return the fire and let a corpsman get to his wounded companion. Five rounds tore into Jerry. He never walked again. He died in 1986.

So Abbenhaus, confined to a wheelchair during the rest of his shortened life, was a hero to McClellan. But following the columnist's logic, he wasn't deserving of military honors. Really, Bill? Then why did you bring him up? McClellan could have made a case for a program cutback without even getting into the "hero" aspect. But he didn't.

As to the expense involved, the amounts involved are so small that they're less than a rounding error. The Missouri buglers who had been paid $24.50 per funeral are being replaced by recordings. I have it on good authority from soneone involved that at least in Ohio, the funding for these payouts dries up by the end of April each year, but that real human buglers still often appear to give their respects and provide veterans a proper send-off during the rest of the year. The four-man rifle teams, which will apparently continue in the Show Me State, reportedly get paid a total of $100.

So here's the reality: We've finally found a government program whose funding is actually getting cut (in Missouri's case, by about 20%, or $24.50 divided by $124.50). It "just so happens" to reduce the degree of tangible respect given to those who served our country. Meanwhile, the press and the left scream about "cuts" to government programs that are riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse which in  the vast majority of cases aren't cuts at all, but merely reductions in their rate of projected growth. And Bill McClellan, redefining the term "lack of perspective," blows two columns devoted to the "wisdom" of virtually zeroing out a program whose cost is negligible, and pats himself on the back for being such a stubborn guy.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.