Veterans Day

November 11, 2009 2:05:41 PM PST
I don't think very much about regrets in life. I don't think very much about regrets in life.

But of the few I suppose I'll admit to, one of them would be not understanding, as an anti-war college student, sacrifices and challenges facing military war veterans.

Unfortunately, the war in Vietnam became, at times by definition, an us-versus-them situation; a generational split that spawned the "America: Love It Or Leave It" response by conservatives. Unfortunately, there were also those on the other side who took harder lines than they should have.

Me included.

Then the soldiers started coming home from the war in Vietnam. And to those opposed to the war, it was clear the vets were as much a victim of failed U.S. policy as the Vietnamese were.

It was a mistake, back then, to blame the troops for the fiasco in Vietnam; yet that's what many in this country did. And the shock they experienced when they returned was, for many of them, life-changing.

Things have changed, thankfully. One reason opposition to the war in Iraq reached such majority levels during the Bush Administration is that Americans opposed to the war still embraced the bravery of the troops. It was, in contrast to Vietnam, okay to be against the war and for the troops.

The sea change was well in evidence today, as the Veterans' Day parade in New York proved. An event that had been dwindling for decades was suddenly alive. Did the massacre at Ft. Hood affect turnout? Perhaps. But there's something much more profound going on here. And good that there is.

Tim Fleischer covered the parade for us, up Fifth Ave. He says he's been covering these events for years, and this was by far the biggest.

Pres. Obama today, observing ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, had pretty much the same thought:

"If we're honest with ourselves," he said, "we will admit there have been times where we, as a nation, have betrayed (a) sacred trust. Our Vietnam veterans served with great honor, and they often came home greeted not with gratitude or support, but with condemnation and neglect. That's something that will never happen again."

By all accounts, the President has been emotionally moved by what he's seen the past couple of weeks - the caskets of killed soldiers in Afghanistan arriving at Dover, yesterday's sorrowful memorial at Ft. Hood honoring the 13 who were killed during a massacre, and today's Veterans' Day remembrances.

The ramifications of war - the body bags - have to be top-of-mind for Mr. Obama. He's meeting late this afternoon with his national security team and reportedly listening to their proposals about what to do in Afghanistan. Pump in tens of thousands of troops, just a few thousand, no additional soldiers, or start pulling back and attacking Al Qaeda where they are doing some damage - in Pakistan.

The President will reportedly make up his mind about Afghanistan at the end of next week. But tonight he's getting some advice from someone who's been there and done that: Colin Powell. The former Joint Chiefs Chairman and the former Secretary of State - who for some reason decided to make the case for the Iraq War to the United Nations when he apparently knew his argument and facts were, to put it charitably, shaky - today said he advised Mr. Obama to take his time in deciding what do to. The decision, said Powell, "will have consequences for years to come. If you decide to send more troops or that's what you feel it is necessary, make sure you have a good understanding of what those troops are going to be doing and some assurance that the additional troops will be successful.

"You can't guarantee success in a very complex theater like Afghanistan and increasingly with the Pakistan problem next door, but you have to have some sense of what these additional troops will be able to do," he said.

Tonight at 11, we'll have Veterans' Day activities throughout the country, and any developments in the President's thinking about the war in Afghanistan.

We'll also have the latest on the investigation into the Ft. Hood shooting. The latest comes from NPR News, which says key officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences met several times last year and this year to discuss Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, and at one point wondered if he was psychotic and mentally fit to serve.

"Put it this way," one source told NPR. "Everybody felt that if you were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you would not want Nidal Hasan in your fox hole."

Charming.

The truth will out here, but officials from all sides - the military, the FBI, everyone involved - are circling their wagons and engaging in a remarkable blame game.

Also at 11, Facebook as alibi. A teenager from Harlem, accused of robbery, proves he didn't do it by logging on to his Facebook page, where, at the exact moment of the robbery, he was writing a message on his "wall." Amazing story.

And we're covering what is a big retail story in Manhattan - the first Costco to open in the borough. It's in East Harlem, and the company, one of the most progressive in the country, changed one of it's crucial policies - now accepting food stamps in addition to cash and credit cards.

If you're a Costco member, you know. It's an experience shopping at this big box store, where you can go for one item and leave several hundred dollars the poorer.

Bargain prices is putting it mildly.

I have a six-degrees-of-separation relationship with Costco, a company I did a story on three years ago for 20/20 on Costco's CEO, Jim Sinegal ? about his corporate and management philosophy. In an era of greed and corruption, Sinegal is a throwback. He sends out his own faxes from a bare-bones office-without-walls at Costco headquarters in Seattle, he wears a name tag just like any other worker (his says just "Jim") and he won't take a salary any higher than 10-times the lowest paid Costco worker (about $350,000 at the time of my story).

My connection? Jim and I each went to San Diego State University - a few of years apart - and when we weren't going to class, worked as clerks at the same big-box discount store: FedMart. It was owned by a remarkable businessman named Sol Price who later opened a bigger version of FedMart called Price Club. I went on to become a reporter; Jim went to work for Sol at Price Club.

But it was something of a family business, and Jim found himself hitting a family-style glass ceiling. So he left and started Costco. A few years later, bought out Price Club. Today, Costco is huge. And its presence in East Harlem is also large. We're there tonight for the preview of tomorrow's opening.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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