Thursday, October 07, 2010

Please Spare Me Your "Thank a Vet" Travel Hype

I arrived in Saigon while it was still on fire from the Tet Offensive in early 1968, so that makes me a vet by any definition of the term.

Nevertheless, I'm sick and tired of various travel-company promotions that seek to latch onto the current good feelings toward the military by invoking veterans to sell products, by pretending the promotions are designed to "thank a vet."

Oh, spare me this patronizing crap. As an NCO, I made $325.70 a month in Vietnam -- and that included combat pay. I was not aware of any travel promotions at the time, other than the one that got me to Tan Son Nhut in the first place. While it's a myth, incidentally, that Vietnam veterans were reviled and spat-upon on returning home (see the important book "Stolen Valor" by B.G. Burkett), it's true that they were mostly ignored. OK, so be it. That's life, as Sinatra sang.

USA Today, which never met a feel-good press release that it didn't love, swallows another one today, credulously promoting an offer from "more than 525 B&Bs in 48 states and two Canadian provinces" that claim they will "give away free rooms to active and retired service members and their spouses/partners" the night before Veterans Day, which is Nov. 11.

Gushes the USA Today: "Time to ditch those bull-in-a-china-shop images: Once stereotyped as fussy, antique-filled Victorians with shared bathrooms and dainty teacups, B&Bs have been updating and broadening their appeal - to soldiers as well as to would-be romance novelists."

Now, my own impression of B&Bs is framed by those wonderful madcap scenes in the classic 1996 road comedy "Flirting With Disaster," especially when the imperious pinched-face B&B lady declaims to Ben Stiller and his brood: "You are not B&B people!" But that's beside the point.

Every day, I get pitches from PR people trying to sell me on this or that "Thank a Vet" program. They never seem to have straight answers when you ask: Are these offers guaranteed if, say, more "vets" than expected try to claim them? How does one prove that one is a "vet?"

And exactly who, pray tell, is a "vet?" The B&B offer, for example, claims it's for "active and retired" military personnel. I pressed some PR people behind it, though, and they didn't even seem to realize that the vast majority of veterans, including World War II and Vietnam veterans, are neither active nor retired. Does the offer include all vets, not just those on active duty and those drawing nice pensions? No reply.

Is the USA Today going to follow-up when some unsuspecting sergeant, home between miserable tours in Afghanistan, gets turned away when she and her husband try to accept the "thank a vet" offer from B&B that's all full up with paying customers the night before Veterans Day, the offer not being available, thank you? I sincerely doubt it.

As a veteran, I have no interest in promotional offers and patronizing platitudes from merchants and marketers, to whom I say:

You want to thank me and my brothers and sisters who served over these long, long years of wars in those endless over-theres? Then end your damned wars. Bring the troops home, and make sure they have access to good jobs and decent medical care when they get back.


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