Richard J. Garfunkel
Hello and welcome to our program “The Advocates” on WVOX-AM. My name is Richard J. Garfunkel, and I am the host of this weekly forum. This program is coming live from New Rochelle, the Queen City, located on the Long Island Sound, and it can also be heard streaming live on www.wvox.com. One can also call directly to the station at 914-636-1460. By the way Bill O’Shaunnessy, whose name is synonymous with WVOX radio always has talked about Mario’s on Arthur Avenue. My wife, Linda and I, were there with our friends Doctor Gerry Appel and his wife Alice, and we treated wonderfully by our hosts Joseph and Barbara and Vallone our server. I told Joseph, that Bill talks about Mario’s, but we were there!
Meanwhile the mission of the “The Advocates” is to bring to the public differing views on current “public policy” issues. The United States Constitution, ratified in 1789 is the framework of our laws. But “public policy” is the amplification of that framework. In other words, new laws are always being written and old laws are always being challenged. Eventually these challenges reach the Supreme Court for “Constitutional testing.” Out of those “tests” rulings either re-affirm or change law. Out of these changes, “public policy” can shift dramatically, but the arguments pro and con can remain with us for many years.
“Public policy”, therefore, is what we as a nation legally and traditionally follow. Over the years the “public policy” of the United States has changed or has been modified greatly. As an example “free public education” is the public policy of the United States. Also, over time, great struggles have ensued over control of the direction of “public policy.” For example: free trade versus protectionism, slavery versus emancipation, state’s rights versus Federalism, and an all-volunteer army or a draft.
Therefore with that in mind, the topic of discussion today is one that is on the minds of many, many Americans. It is whether we should return to a draft army, the problems of the transition back to civilian life and the impact of GI Bill of Rights.
To discuss that critical topic we have three guests with us. Mr. and Mrs. John Weiner, from White Plains, who is with us in our studio, and Mr. Jim Kurtz, who will join us on phone from his home in Webster, New York. John Weiner, who was born and raised in Livingston Manor, NY and, served honorably in Europe during WWII was discharged as a Captain, is here with his beautiful and brilliant wife Lynne Lehrman Weiner, who has spent a lifetime as an activist, a reporter, homemaker, mother of three and is the author of the book Sigmund Freud Through Lehrman’s Lens, which is being published in English, and will be released within the next month. Her father, Philip Lehrman, a well-known psychiatrist was a student and associate of the famous Sigmund Freud, and she had the pleasure of sitting on the famous Austrian doctor’s lap. John, who taught for many years at the Edgemont High School, was honored by the State of New York, among many others, for his free book program that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist homeless people.
Jim Kurtz, who now resides in Webster, NY, was raised in Mount Vernon, NY, graduated from the Mount Vernon schools and Syracuse University. He volunteered for service in 1967 and served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam. When he was discharged from service, Jim had been awarded the Bronze Star among his other decorations. He spent his post-war working career, owning a large restaurant in Rochester, NY. After a hiatus of 15 years he became quite active with Vietnam veterans, which included outreach activities that included dealing with the transitional problems of returning to civilian life, developing a prosthetics factory for land mine victims, and counseling centers for veterans.
Therefore with these two decorated veterans, of two very different wars, I would like to start by asking John Weiner his opinion on the draft, how it affected him in the days before WWII and what whether he thinks it should be re-instated today.
Next and on our call-in line is Jim Kurtz our Vietnam veteran: I pose the same question to Jimmy, who I have the pleasure of knowing from our school days in Mount Vernon back in the early 1960’s.
A. Draft was established in 1863, was unpopular. The law authorized that anyone could hire a substitute for $300.
B. During WWI- the Selective Service Act of 1917, called for all men between 21-30 to register, (later amended to all from 18-45). Exemptions: men with dependent families, serving in indispensable duties at home or physical disabilities. Conscientious objector status was granted to members of pacifist organizations but had to perform alternative services. Other war objectors were imprisoned. End of WWI 2.8 million men had been inducted.
C. WWII –Selective Service Act of 1940- provided for an army of not more than 900,000 at any one time and limited to 12 months duty. Later (1941) extended to 18 months. The act called for all men from 18 thru 65 to register, and all men between 18-45 could be realistically called. Between 1940 and 1947, the Act annually expired and was re-enacted one year at a time. Over 10,000,000 were inducted.
D. . New laws were passed in 1948, 1951, 1955, 1967- the 1948 law called for all men to register between 18-26 and were liable to a 21 month commitment and 5 years of reserve obligation. Later the law was amended to 18.5 years old at the minimum and 24 months of service. BY 1967 all men between 18 and 26 had to register with regular exemptions, which included educational deferments and defense education work, or teaching.
E. In 1973 an all-volunteer army was created, and the draft was abolished.
F. In 1980 Congress re-instituted draft registration for men 18 to 25 years old.
One of the greatest efforts that America made, in terms of the federal government’s participation in education was the GI Hill of Rights. Its official name was the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. It was signed into law by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, just 16 days after the Allies landed at Normandy, and it provided federal aid to help aid servicemen to readjust to civilian life. It focused on hospitalization, purchases of homes and businesses and especially education. It provided tuition, subsistence, books, supplies, equipment, and counseling services. This piece of legislation is considered the last piece of the New Deal acts.
Congressman Charles Rangel, in his well-received book “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since,” describes his effort to reintroduce the draft in 2006. He talks about the downward trend in recruitment, along with the rising level of public skepticism regarding the future of a volunteer army. He suggests a draft that would reach everyone between the ages of 18 and 42, with deferments only for the completion of high school and up to age 20, for reasons of health, conscience or religious belief.
Today they are offering bonuses of upwards of $90,000 for reenlisting active duty service men and women in certain specialties.
Besides the obvious shortfall vis-à-vis recruiting, a recent story stated that out of the West Point Class of 2001. It was also reported in the Times Herald-Record, of April 28, 2007, that the West Point Class of 2001 had an attrition rate of 46%, after five years, of its graduating class of 903, the highest rate in over three decades. The cost of educating a West Point Cadet is estimated, over the four years to cost between $1 and $1.5 million. Therefore in round figures, the cost to the people of the United States was between $415 and $622 million for that part of the class that has resigned. To me that is quite alarming, no less expensive.
My next question for both John and Jim is their thoughts and experiences with the GI Bill and did it affect their world, or the world of their contemporaries?
A) Federal Government would subsidize tuition, books, fees, and contribute to living expenses, veterans were free to attend the educational institution of their choice, and the colleges were free to those they would admit.
B) In the following 7 years 8 million vets received educational benefits. Of that group, 2.3 million attended colleges, 3.5 million received school training, and 3.4 received on-the-job training. By 1951 the total cost was approximately $14 billion.
C) Another provision was the 52-20 clause. This enabled all servicemen to receive $20 per week for 52 weeks, while they were looking for work. Less than 20% of the money set aside for the 52-20 Club as it was called was distributed.
D) Low interest loans, zero down payment loans for houses for returning servicemen.
E) The Vietnam era vets used the GI Bill’s education benefits (72%) than WWII (51%) or Korea (43%). The Vietnam era cost of higher education was $38.5 billion, which was 2.5 times the cost of WWII benefits, when adjusted for inflation.
F) In the new 1952 law tuition was not paid directly to the colleges because of tuition gouging
G) Veteran’s benefits for education continued to rise, reflective of inflation from the new 1966 bill through the Montgomery GI Bill in the 1970’s.
Obviously the transition back to civilian life is a most difficult one for many returning veterans, especially those who saw combat, were involved in long and prolonged combat situations and were physically or psychologically affected by what they experienced and what they saw. There have been many films that reflected that transition: The Best Years of Our Lives, The Men, The 4th of July, Forrest Gump, and Pride of the Marines with John Garfield about Al Schmid, who was blinded in action.