9 September 2008

a solider's welcome home

Mary Allen is a moron. I don’t actually know her woman, I have never met her nor ever want to. Yet in spite of that, I can safely say that she is an idiot. Why? On Monday Mary Allen wrote into the newspaper in response to a story that is making headlines over here. Briefly, the story is about a solider who went to check into a hotel in Surrey and was denied entry because he was wearing a military uniform. The hotel staff said they did not accept members of the armed forces. In some half-assed, mock attempt at a protest, they refused a room to a solider that was back from Afghanistan on injury leave. After 2 tours in Iraq and 2 in Afghanistan, he was in Woking, Surrey to help with funeral arrangements for a friend who had recently died in battle. Instead of a bed, he was forced to sleep in his car.

That is utterly horrendous! But if that wasn’t bad enough, Mary Allen wrote in saying good job to the hotel. Her view was that people should essentially be discriminated against based on what particular uniform they wear. She wrote that he brother was a fireman, a person who was actually fighting for the good of the people, defending the country. Since Mary Allen was not in favour of the war, her stance was that all soldiers are wrong fro fighting. She agreed with the hotel, essentially saying fireman should get better treatment while soldiers should get worse. Preposterous!

Since then, here have been countless comparisons to America with people saying that returning soldiers are treated like heroes. While I do not think that is always the case, it should be. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the war is beside the point. At the core of the issue lies hundreds upon hundreds of brave young men and women, willing to fight and die for the honour of their country. You may not agree with Iraq, you may hate Bush and Blair who put the US and UK in war in the first place. But those men and women who choose to go and fight are a courageous and honourable group; they deserve the utmost respect and admiration. For a hotel to treat a serviceman in such a manner is despicable.

I will join the long list of those boycotting the hotel. I never have the need to stay in Surrey, but I can guarantee that I will never stay at The Metro Hotel, Woking, Surrey. Shame that it is not a chain because I feel then the boycott would be even more effective.

It reminds me of a story I heard about a solider returning to America after a tour in Vietnam. He was so excited to be back in his own country, looking forward to seeing his family; he polished his boots, wore his best uniform and even had a fresh haircut. The minute he stepped off the bus instead of being met with cheers and voices of 'Welcome Home', he was berated with jeers and profanity. He was hit repeatedly by the crowd who were throwing raw eggs. They were protesting America's involvement in the Vietnam War; how humiliating and hurting the battle weary soldiers was going to help is beyond me. This particular young soldier was returning due to injury. He had lost left foot and was walking with crutches. One protester kicked his crutches out from under him and laughed, throwing more eggs at close range as the soldier fell to the ground. Broken, humiliated and alone this poor serviceman struggled to get to his feet when a stout, brave taxi driver pushed through the crowd, scooped the solider up, grab his kit bag and put him in his cab. The driver took the young man to his home, where his wife was waiting with a clean shower and a hot meal. She laundered his uniform and polished his boots. He was astounded that these complete strangers were being so kind, especially after the 'welcome' he had just received. When asked why, the couple responded by showing him a picture of a boy in uniform just about his age. The man explained that his boy had joined, ready to fight for his country. But sadly, he would never be coming back to it. He went on to say that while his son may never come back, when he saw this young soldier being humiliated on the ground it occurred to him that he was someone’s son, and he deserved to be welcomed home in the same way a father would welcome his own son home. The solider went to home to his family the following morning, and he received a wonderful welcome home by his parents. But he never forgot the kindness of the taxi driver, nor the cruelty of the waiting mob.

Even as I write my eyes are filled with tears. Some in part for the Vietnam Vet who told me that story, some in part for the British solider refused entry to the hotel. Both stories make me sick. It is disgusting that people have so little respect for the military. I hope that there is never another world conflict like the First and Second World Wars. But is that what it would take for people today to realise the sacrifice that serviceman make? Shame that somewhere between the heroes welcome in the 1940's and the Iraq War of today we have lost sight of the value, significance and sacrifice of Soldiers.

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