"One Day's Service, A Lifetime's Support"
Last night on my LBC show we discussed the issue of how we treat our armed services, and in particular war veterans. It is never good when a presenter breaks down in tears on air, but last night it nearly happened to me twice. Once when reading out a heartfelt text and another time when an elderly lady phoned up to tell me that her husband had been held by the Germans in the Hartenstein Hotel I had visited with my Dad in Arnhem last week. There were several other callers who were outraged at how we treat our veterans, a subject I discussed with retired army officer Dick Bland.
I spoke to Colonel Richard Kemp who wants the government to introduce and equivalent of America's Purple Heart medal, to recognise the valour of those who are injured in combat.
But that's not the reason for this post. During the hour I told of how, when I was in Arnhem last week, we visited the museum at the Hartenstein Hotel, which housed the German command centre during WW2 for that part of Holland. While we were there, about 100 British Army soldiers were visiting too, along with several dozen cyclists who had been taking part in a sponsored bike ride from the UK to Holland in aid of Help for Heroes. Two of them had lost both legs while fighting in Afghanistan. Another was blind in one eye. I so wanted to go up to them and shake their hands and thank them for what they had done. But I didn't. I wanted to talk to the guys in their uniforms and let them know people like me appreciated what they were doing for our country. But I didn't. And I was ashamed of myself. Part of it was a slight embarrassment, part of it was the fact that I knew I would well up like a wuss and part of it was ... well, it's not the sort of thing we do in this country is it? In America it's different. There's no reservation at all. There's an outgoing nature among Americans which we just don't have. That's why you see videos on Youtube of troops being clapped through airports. But it's more than that, they treat their soldiers and veterans with a respect we don't. Soldiers are invited onto aircraft to take their seats first. They're honoured at sports games. In their hometowns their treated like minor celebrities. In Britain our troops are told not to wear uniforms outside barracks in case they are attacked. What kind of country does that makes us? Charities like SSAFA and Help For Heroes have to step in and do the things for veterans which in America would be done by the Department of Veteran Affairs. They do a great job but too much is put on them.
Later in my programme I talked to Colonel Richard Kemp, who told me he had been following my Arnhem trip on Twitter. He reckoned that he and I should start a campaign to encourage people to thank our troops. To go up to individual soldiers and shake their hands, to do anything to let them know how appreciated they are. Something as simple as if you're passing a lorry carrying troops, give it a toot and a wave. It's simple things like that which make a difference. Richard has started a Twitter hashtage #thanktroops.
It was amazing to hear the calls which followed this suggestion. People described their own experiences in America at airports and sports games. One man rang in and was almost in tears describing how he, like me, was ashamed that he had never had the courage to make his feelings known to individual soldiers he had met.
So come on people. Next time you see someone in uniform, do it. Tell them how grateful you are. Shake their hand. Wave at them. Smile. But let them know. And when you do, come back here and tell us what the reaction was.
Note: The top video was real. The one at the bottom was for a Budweiser commercial.