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Gold Star Family Memorial Monument unveiling calls to mind a less rancorous time

Dec 11 2022
Ken Fountain | Fort Bend Star

Last week, on the 81st anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, I reported on the unveiling ceremony of the new Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Sugar Land Memorial Park. The monument honors the families of U.S. service members who have lost their lives to wounds they have suffered.

It was a somber event, as you might expect. But with the late-afternoon sun providing a Golden Hour backdrop to the proceedings, it was very moving.

I mentioned in my introductory column a few weeks ago that I'm a veteran of the U.S. Navy. I was a Navy Journalist aboard the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier based in San Diego, California. During my five-year hitch, I made three deployments to the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf, including Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

As I like to point out whenever I discuss my time in the Navy, nothing I did was particularly heroic. As a Journalist (that job title doesn't exist anymore, having been subsumed into a new rating called Mass Communications Specialist), I worked in the ship's Public Information Office. Among our duties, we wrote stories and press releases, put out the ship's newspaper, operated the ship's television station, interacted with the civilian media.

When two Gold Family mothers spoke at the event at Sugar Land Memorial Park, I thought back to Operation Desert Storm. While I personally never experienced any particular danger, I knew how concerned members of my family were. Their remarks resonated strongly.

While I never thought of the military as a lifetime career and left after my first enlistment, I knew that it was a valuable experience to have had when I was young, and never regretted having joined.

Eager to rejoin civilian life, I didn't expect to ever miss being in the Navy, living full-time in cramped spaces aboard a huge ship with a working airport just a few decks (that's "floors," to you landlubbers) above my head.

After a year or so in other jobs, I took my first reporting job at a small suburban newspaper in San Diego (just a stone's throw from the huge San Diego Naval Station). Not long afterward, though, I returned to my hometown of Houston and ultimately resumed by journalism careeer.

And while I often thought back fondly to my Navy days, and drew upon those experiences sometimes in my reporting and writing, I didn't believe the military had much relevance to my current life. That is, until a few years ago.

Like many of you, I have watched in disappointment as the partisan divide in this nation (which has always existed to some extent) has become more and more infused with vitriol and distrust. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I've allowed myself to take part in that. The reasons behind this new divisiveness have been examined by people much smarter than me, and are far too complex to delve into in this column.

Back when I served, I don't remember a lot of political discussion among my shipmates, event during election seasons. As it happened, I served under three Presidents of both major parties - Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. They were each our Commander-in-Chief, and we followed the orders they gave. Even after the quick, decisive victory in Operation Desert Storm, we could all laugh at Dana Carvey's impersonation of Bush on "Saturday Night Live."

When I think about those days, what I think about most is the values that the military imparted: devotion to duty, honor, respect, accountability. I don't remember anyone demonizing people of different political leanings.

It's been a long time since I served in the military, and I don't have any firsthand experience with what it's like there now. There have been reports of a rise in extremism in the ranks. I'd like to believe that is the exception, not the rule. My instincts tell me that must be true.