In the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, vice president Dick Cheney quipped to the National Press Club about his family's relationship to Barack Obama. To support this venture into comedy, the veep said:
"So we had Cheneys on both sides of the family—and we don't even live in West Virginia."
I heard the tape and the laughter...53 years of listening to low-brow humor such as this and it really doesn't even bother me any more.
Mr. Cheney was of age to go to Vietnam, but he somehow got out of it despite absolutely partying his white ass off and flunking out of Yale three times. Vietnam wasn't in his plans at the time, he told us as he prepared nameless and faceless soldiers to travel to his recklessly-conceived war. I believe those soldiers had better things to do, also.
The damned thing about it is that, in keeping with the history of foreign wars, through The Great War and World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq and Afghanistan, a good many of those soldiers came from West Virginia.
Per capita, Almost Heaven has the highest number of veterans of any state in the nation.
So, as a young man, Vice President Cheney, the hawk's hawk, may had benefited from having some West Virginia blood coursing through his veins. Maybe then he could have been consistent.
Why have there been more Mountaineers stepping up for their nation when they have been needed? Some sociologists say the state's economy is usually bad, or at least challenging. Young men reach the age of 18 with a poor education, facing forever-dwindling job prospects. The military is the only choice.
That could be part of it. In 1940, my father Bill graduated from Mullens High School, deep in the state's southern coalfields. The Great Depression had decimated most possibilities of becoming anything in the economy, so he became a United States Marine.
Americans everywhere had imperialism breathing down our necks from the East and the West, but Bill didn't just want a desk job.
He was looking to fight.
And, he got what he was looking for.
In November 1942, the Japanese were desperate to win in the South Pacific. Key to that victory was the control of Guadalcanal, a tiny island just large enough to host an essential airbase. Our Marines had wrested the island from the enemy, but the Imperial Army took one final stab at it with everything they had.
That's about the time my dad, a 22-year-old platoon sergeant, led his 18-and 19-year-olds in the assault of the beach. The mission was to be three days in duration: get in, install a weather station, get out.
Thirty-five days later, Dad and his Marines climbed aboard a landing craft heading for their ship. A naval battle had diverted all craft north, leaving the leathernecks to fend for themselves along with a couple thousand Japanese soldiers.
Surprisingly, I had to find out about this via my own research. True Marines don't like to talk about it, the near-misses and the hand-to-hand combat.
Thirty-five days from today is around Jan. 24. Imagine if you were told you had to run and fight for your life until several days before the Super Bowl. Kind of puts CBS' reality show Survivor in perspective, doesn't it?
Two hundred-thousand veterans live in West Virginia. It's safe to say many have a story similar to that of my father. And, many of us want to hear them.
However, they're drowned out by those civilians who have little business telling the American soldier what to do, but do so anyway regardless of the fact that the American soldier will risk it all for duty and honor alone without having to be told.
Talk about the bully pulpit.
Where is my diatribe going?
The week before West Virginia visited Auburn in September, humor like Cheney's incest jokes started early. Now, the Gator Bowl is played in 10 days, in the state of Florida, against Florida State, with many of those in attendance from there, and here they come again.
You certainly had brave soldiers from Florida fighting for your rights to insult my lineage. The First Amendment says no one can stop you. Well, I can't. However, football is a game of numbers and tendencies. So, the numbers don't lie about this tendency: 200,000 veterans out of 1.9 million people make West Virginia—per capita— the most duty bound and honorable state in the union.
Think of that before you bloviate like everyone's favorite Republican.
And, let's have a great Gator Bowl together.