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Inside Politics
Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Remembering World War II

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- When you meet Pennsylvanian Robert Collins, radioman second class United States Navy (ret.) on a visit to the new World War Two Memorial in the nation's capital, you no longer care who was right or wrong in the argument over whether it should have been built on the mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Now 78 and wheelchair-bound, Collins remembers joining the Navy at 18 "to avoid the (Army) draft, "only to find himself and his shipmates in the Pacific dodging Kamikaze attacks of Japanese suicide pilots in the campaign for Okinawa." Later would come service in the Korean War. "In the fall of 1950, we built a home and moved in Friday night, and Monday morning I reported back ... we made the first and second invasions of Inchon."

Ask Collins what Americans should remember and value about WWII, and he speaks not of battles but of "the sacrifice of not only the servicemen but also the whole country."

Meanwhile in Congress, the Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert of Illinois, scolded Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a sworn enemy of the GOP's three tax cuts to "finance" the nation's two most recent wars, for his public challenge to "name one thing that Congress has told the special interests and their fat-cat lobbyists to do without since the war began. Now think about America's finest under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the sacrifice they're making on our behalf."

Hastert had this advice for a man who has spent more time recovering from war wounds in military hospitals than the entire Republican congressional leadership has spent in military service: "John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There is sacrifice in this country."

For the record: McCain, the most popular elected Republican in the country, does in fact visit the wounded warriors at Bethesda and Walter Reed and ... what the hell are they putting in Denny Hastert's Kool-Aid?

But back to Radioman 2nd Class Collins' good point about the country's shared sacrifice during WWII. Americans did accept the rationing of sugar, meat, coffee, gasoline, clothing, automobiles, liquor and cigarettes. Citizens were limited to two pairs of shoes a year at a time when walking was more necessary due to federal rules that limited most -- including first lady Eleanor Roosevelt -- to just 3 gallons of gasoline a week.

Because the nation's agricultural produce was dedicated to feeding our troops and allies overseas, civilians in their backyards, on empty corner lots, in public places including Ellis Island and Alcatraz, planted "victory gardens. " Twenty million of them, by the middle of the war, were producing one-third of the nation's fresh vegetables.

The percentage of the total national economy consumed in federal taxes -- to pay for the war -- was increased by 300 percent. Because steel and aluminum were needed for the war effort, tin cans were washed and flattened, tin foil was saved and, in Nebraska, a drive led by the publisher of the Omaha World Herald collected 135 million tons of scrap metal.

Americans of every station, class and profession served and sacrificed. On the day he received his draft notice, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis successfully defended his title, donating his entire purse to the Navy Relief Fund. Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio all served. So, too, did Hollywood's Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Henry Fonda.

The president's four sons all served, and FDR Jr., a Naval officer, was decorated for bravery in the battle of Casablanca. John F. Kennedy's millionaire ambassador-father pulled strings to get JFK in -- not out of -- Navy combat service

The Army lieutenant son of New York's Democratic Gov. Herbert Lehman, Peter, was killed in combat, as was Marine Sgt. Peter Saltonstall, the son of the Massachusetts Republican senator whose Bay State colleague in the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge, actually resigned from that body to become a tank commander in North Africa. FDR's closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, who lived in the White House, endured the combat death of his 18-year-old son, Stephen.

Denny Hastert would do well to spend some time with Robert Collins and his fellow veterans who remember well "the sacrifice of not only the servicemen but of the whole country." The greatest generation and its leadership proved that you don't need to wear a uniform to be a patriot or a hero. That's a lesson tragically unlearned by today's leaders and citizens.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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