OPINION — As a political columnist, the hardest part isn’t finding something to write about, it’s narrowing your focus to just one topic. For today’s column, I could have written about the election mess in Florida, President Trump’s non-attendance at a Veterans Day parade in France, the fact that Nancy Pelosi could soon be second-in-line to the presidency (it could happen), or my complaint that 2020 speculation is the new Christmas decorating (too much too soon).
But after I saw Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live, everything else seemed small in comparison. If you don’t know his name, you will. If you don’t know the story, here it is.
Crenshaw is a Harvard-educated former Navy SEAL who ran and won Tuesday night in the second congressional district in Texas. On the Saturday before Election Day, actor Pete Davidson mocked Crenshaw on SNL for wearing an eye patch. The patch covers the injuries Crenshaw sustained during his third deployment to Iraq.
That Crenshaw survived his injuries to eventually run for Congress must feel like a miracle, so that may explain why he gamely went on SNL himself last weekend to poke fun at Davidson in return. Veterans I know say that nearly dying made them grateful even for the challenges in life. Not much compares to what they’ve already survived, especially what this generation has endured in multiple deployments, endless engagements and potently dangerous combat.
Motivated to serve
Of the servicemen and women who have served tours in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, more than 53,000 have been wounded, many, like Crenshaw, with disabling injuries. Another 6,700 Americans have been killed — the best of us, so motivated to respond to 9/11 that they went in search of a way to make this country safer.
It’s no stretch to think that many of them would be in Congress by now, or running for governor or Senate. The biographies of those who died read like the first chapters of a presidential biography, not the last.
There are the names we all knew, like Pat Tillman, the NFL player who enlisted in the Army six months after the planes hit the World Trade Center. Tillman died in Afghanistan in 2004 after becoming an Army Ranger. His wife wrote last week that he was passionate and opinionated, but with a nuanced mind and willingness to change his mind.
This Congress could have used Pat Tillman.
And then there are the names most of us hadn’t heard of yet, like 2nd Lt. Emily Perez, a West Point graduate whose friends described her as “like a superwoman” before she was killed by a roadside bomb while leading a platoon in Iraq. Perez was a track standout and graduated in the top 10 in her class in Prince George’s County. She was just 23 when she died. Can you imagine the additional impact she could have continued to make on her country had she lived?
Or 1st Lt. Tyler H. Brown, the president of his high school and college classes in Atlanta, who was killed in 2004 in an enemy attack in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. Brown had been a summer intern for Sen. Paul Coverdell and was described by friends as a politician in the making.
“We figured he could be president someday,” one said. Brown died when he was 26 and would have been 40 this year, just the age someone with his background might also have run for office. And maybe someday the White House.
The losses in Iraq and Afghanistan have slowed, but they haven’t stopped. Last week, Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden, Utah, and a father of seven, was shot to death. Can you imagine leaving seven children behind to serve your fourth deployment? That’s what we asked of him again and again and again and again.
The best of a generation
“This war has once again cost us the best blood of a generation,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said when he heard the news of Taylor’s death.
For everything we’ve lost as a nation, the best news about the midterm elections, in my eyes, is the number of service members who were elected to Congress for the first time and will be bringing their experience to Washington in January, at least 16 and counting. They’re Navy SEALS and bomber pilots, and nuclear engineers and platoon leaders, men and women from both parties.
When they get to Capitol Hill, they’ll bring not only their record of service, but also their first-hand knowledge of the wars the U.S. is still fighting, along with a deeply personal understanding of what it means to commit the United States and our young men and women around the globe. If the past is any guide, they’ll also be less partisan, more pragmatic, and ready, as they always have been, to put their service to the nation before themselves. Those are attributes Congress has never needed more.
On Saturday night, Dan Crenshaw used the slight against him on SNL as a chance to tell the country what the veterans among us still need. Instead of saying, “Thank you for your service” this Veterans Day weekend, he suggested Americans say “never forget.”
“We will never forget the sacrifices made by veterans past and present, and never forget those we lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete’s father.”
Yes, Pete Davidson’s own father — a New York City firefighter — died on 9/11, when his son was 7 years old. It would have been easy for Crenshaw to hold the actor’s behavior against him, but he didn’t do that. Instead, he was an example of humor, forgiveness, and leadership.
After the skit was over, Davidson whispered in Crenshaw’s ear, but you could make out the words unmistakably.
“You’re a good man,” Davidson said. “Thank you.”
For being an example to the rest of us, from the best of us, thank you Dan Crenshaw and all of America’s veterans. And never forget.
ICYMI: Trump, Pence Honor 9/11 Victims at Shanksville, Pentagon