In 1973, there was a pop song on the radio, by Tony Orlando and Dawn: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” The song told the story of a recently released prison convict riding a bus home, not sure if his sweetie is still interested. To spare them both an uncomfortable scene, he has informed her ahead of time to tie a yellow ribbon, etc., if she wants him to see him.
During the Iranian hostage crisis of the late seventies, one of the wives of the hostages appropriated the symbol, tying a yellow ribbon around a tree in front of her house. Before you knew it, there were yellow ribbons everywhere, expressing solidarity with the hostages and their families.
So when we use yellow ribbons to express support for the troops are we admitting that they are, in a way, prisoners and hostages? After all, stop-loss programs are keeping a lot of people in the service who have already given far more than they ever expected. And now the military is apparently so desperate for bodies that they are trying to call people back to active duty who have long since fulfilled their commitments, and gone on and started lives and families.
In the last few months, the Army has sent notices to more than 4,000 former soldiers informing them that they must return to active duty, but more than 1,800 of them have already requested exemptions or delays, many of which are still being considered.
And, of about 2,500 who were due to arrive on military bases for refresher training by Nov. 7, 733 had not shown up.
“I consider myself a civilian,” said Rick Howell, a major from Tuscaloosa, Ala., who said he thought he had left the Army behind in 1997 after more than a decade flying helicopters. “I’ve done my time. I’ve got a brand new baby and a wife, and I haven’t touched the controls of an aircraft in seven years. I’m 47 years old. How could they be calling me? How could they even want me?”
Some former soldiers acknowledge that the Army has every right to call them back, but argue that their personal circumstances – illness, single parenthood, financial woes – make going overseas impossible now.
Others say they do not believe they are eligible to be returned to active duty because, they contend, they already finished the obligations they signed up for when they joined the military. A handful of such former soldiers, scattered across the country, have filed lawsuits making that claim in federal courts.
…whoops! Here’s the link.