With American patriotism in steep decline, veterans discuss the importance of honoring those who’ve served

At a time when American patriotism is in steep decline, military recruitment is falling and veteran suicide is 1.5x times higher than that of the U.S. population, a few highly decorated veterans discussed the state of the American military and what Americans can do to support veterans on Veterans Day. 

Commander Kirk Lippold a retired USN Commanding Officer of the USS Cole, Lieutenant Colonel John Stark who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a diplomat at the Department of State and Colonel Pete Metzger who served twenty-five years as a US Marine Officer, in the CIA and as the Marine Military Aide to President Ronald Reagan, spoke with Fox News Digital about the importance of patriotism and showing support for U.S. veterans.

“Veterans Day, that’s the one true holiday that recognizes the service of everyone who chose to serve their nation,” Lippold told Fox News Digital. 

He explained that one of the most important aspects about the military is that the people who choose to serve recognize their duty to a cause that is bigger than themselves. But, he said that attitude is not valued by society in the same way it used to be. 

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“These days, in a society that, in many people’s view, has become more self-absorbed and more concerned with the ‘What’s in it for me’ … the military is the exact opposite,” Lippold said. “It’s more about ‘What can I become part of to contribute to the better good of my nation?'”

Lippold said the key to fostering patriotism in the country comes from educating the American public about how when young men and women raise their right hand and choose a life of consequence in service to the nation, they understand what that entails. 

“Whether they stay in for four years or 34 years, what they give back in service to our nation,” he said. “If the American people understood the sacrifices they make and how they do it, and what a worthwhile and fulfilling career that can be for people to have, more of them would actually serve [and] more of them would be willing to support veterans while they are actively serving within their communities to make sure that their families are being taken care of during those difficult times of deployments.”

“It’s making Americans aware, especially when the number of people serving is a smaller and smaller percentage of our society,” he added. “The importance of that military becomes outsized in their role in defending our democracy and who we are as a country.”

Stark pondered the decline in recruitment numbers across different sectors of the military, which he said is indication of his belief that there’s a decline in society’s ability to raise and bring to the table people who are willing to sacrifice something of themselves for a greater purpose. 

“The general trend in society has been to focus on your individual rights and not the group as a whole and that is a shame and veterans feel that,” he added. “Some of them take it harder than others, some of them have entire families that have served and their family continues to serve and that is good, but it cannot be that 1% of the population is doing most of the sacrificing.”

“It’s an absolutely amazing fact that less than on percent of the American public serves in the armed forces” Metzer added. “Everybody wants to outsource it, everybody wants to stand up at a picnic and say thank you, but fewer and fewer people are raising their right hand to serve and we need more of that.”

Less than 40% of U.S. adults say they are “extremely proud” to be American, which is down from 55% in January 2001, according to Gallup polling from June, but Lippold argued patriotism was at its true low after the Vietnam War. 

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“When you look at where it has come since and where we are today, even after those decades that we had, where we were engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq, the American people still love their veterans,” he said. “But I think it’s a matter of they don’t really know: ‘How can I contribute besides saying thank you for your service’ or showing the flag?” 

“I think inherently Americans know the importance of the military, but in some ways they don’t know how to give back,” he added.

Stark said the message that it is just and right to serve your country and make a sacrifice for something greater than yourself is an idea most people agree with, but they don’t agree on what form that service will take. 

“There are a lot of people with a lot of ideas on how to get people to sacrifice, to do something for their country, instead of asking their country to do something for them,” he said. “But, most of them are doing the reverse at this time.”

Stark pointed to the domination of social media among the American youth as a reason why the country is so polarized.

“We don’t talk about it too much, but the military and the people that go in it generally support one party over another,” he said. “This is not the best way for our society to be balanced. We used to see a more balanced outlook on the military from both sides, and unfortunately, that’s changed.”

“We need to fix that fast because our enemies will exploit that,” he said. “I believe there’s already trollers that are working one way or the other to influence people to think one way or another and to polarize us even more. A divided America will not be able to stand against the new challenges that we face in the United States.”

All three veterans are involved in CharitiesforVets, which is advised by a board of highly decorated vets. They describe the non-profit as a “consumer reports for veterans charities” that uses a rigorous pass/fail ranking system to rank the efficient of veterans charities. 

Lippold explained that oftentimes money allocated to veterans isn’t used in the most efficient or effective manner, which CharitiesforVets seeks to do. Each organization on the site falls into the not recommended, recommended or highly recommended category. 

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The non-profit recently studied the tax returns of over 100 popular veterans charities and found that near one half of the charities, collecting 1.4 billion from donors, are not using the money as promised or as advertised.

In some cases, charities have years worth of donations sitting in reserves rather than going to veterans or advertised programs and in others, more than 75% of incoming donations go to overhead, rather than to veterans or veterans programs. 

Lippold explained that CharitiesforVets serves as a clearinghouse for veterans’ charities to review their tax statements and other documents that the government doesn’t have the time or the resources to analyze. 

“It really gives the normal civilian out there who wants to somehow thank these veterans for their service to our nation, for the sacrifices they may have made, to be given an opportunity, when they give their hard-earned dollars to veterans-related charities, that it is going to be put to good use,” he added. 

He explained that there is an opportunity for any organization to demonstrate that they have improved their performance, so they can get into the recommended to highly recommended categories. 

“There’s always going to be a vehicle for them to be able to kind of protest and say, ‘I can do better, I have done better, this is what I’ve done,'” he said. 

“We do want to demonstrate to the American people that when they do give their money, that it is going to go toward very worthwhile purposes to help veterans,” he added. 

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