COMMENTARY | This week, we commemorate the 69th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. Most would be surprised to learn that General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of Teddy Roosevelt the “Rough Rider” and President, was in the thick of things, directing operations at Utah Beach. The former New York State Assemblyman and ex-Gov. of Puerto Rico and the Philippines received a Medal of Honor Citation as a result, but died a month later at Normandy of a heart attack. He’s buried next to his younger brother, a WWI casualty.
Roosevelt was just like his brothers in their military service. They served because of their connection to politics, not despite it. They were similar to so many others of their generation in that respect. Some came from political families. Others joined politics after the war, putting their experience to good use.
This week, we also said goodbye to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat. Most knew of his years in politics, but few know that he served in World War II in the Signal Corps in Antwerp, Belgium, a key Allied port in the final push to end Nazi Germany. It was a dangerous job, as his position was hit several times. He’s also the last World War II veteran to serve in Congress. We also said goodbye to decorated WWII veteran Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat earlier this term.
We’ll be treated to our usual round of politician poems like GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s “it is the soldier, not the teacher, protester, lawyer, etc. who gives us freedom.” But they are less likely to be delivered by a soldier or sailor or pilot or other military member from the political pulpit.
Of course there are still veterans left from other wars and other forms of service, but they are a dwindling unit. In the 111th Congress, only 96 had any military service in the House of Representatives (22 percent). Several of those 111th. Congress were also defeated in their reelection bids, so that number is now down to 19 percent.
In the Senate, it was only slightly better, with 25 percent serving in the military. But already, we’ve seen the deaths of Sens. Lautenberg and Inouye, the retirement of some like Sen. Akaka, and the imminent retirement of Sens. Harkin and Johnson in 2014.
Military service is bipartisan, as 50.5 percent of the House members of that Congress were in the GOP and 49.45 percent were Democrats. In the Senate, 14 of those 25 were Democrats.
The good news is that there’s always a chance veterans will make a comeback in Congress. Both Rep. Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez, the two candidates to fill Sen. John Kerry’s (another veteran) seat have served in the military. Perhaps others who have already sacrificed will be inspired to give just a little more to help our country, in the political arena.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, GA