Washington’s Vanishing Veterans

Veterans And Their Families Attend Newark Job Fair

James Hohmann ponders the implications of the death of Frank Lautenberg, “the Senate’s last World War II vet”, at age 89:

The New Jersey Democrat, who enlisted in the Army at 18 and shipped off to Europe, was the last of 115 senators who served during World War II. They were more likely to work together and avoid petty partisanship than their successors. Most, including Republicans like Bob Dole of Kansas, came home believing that government could be a force for good. They internalized a leeriness of war and were committed to caring for fellow veterans. …

A dwindling number of senators served in subsequent wars. Only 14 of 100 senators now have worn the nation’s uniform, and three of them have announced plans to retire. In the House, it is fewer than one in five. [Rep. John] Dingell said those who have fought in war are often leeriest about using force.

Amy Davidson hopes that he will serve as an inspiration to a new generation of veteran legislators:

Lautenberg enlisted in the Army in 1942, the year he turned eighteen, and was an ordinary soldier in the Signal Corps for the rest of the war. One of his many legislative battles was to expand the education benefits connected to the G.I. Bill, which had helped him to attend Columbia. His status as the last of his war’s veterans in the Senate is worth reflecting on, but one wonders, even more, what younger veterans going into politics now will do with what they learned. There is an empty space for his cohort in the Senate, but an emerging one for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in the House. Their ranks include women like Tulsi Gabbard and Tammy Duckworth, whose presence is no eccentricity. It is part of the America Lautenberg, and the liberalism he aspired to, helped build.

(Photo: U.S. Senator and World War II veteran Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) speaks at a free veterans job fair at Rutgers University on March 29, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. Public and private sector employers attended along with agencies providing support to veterans. First time jobless claims numbers fell to their lowest level in six weeks last week as the economy shows possible signs of recovery. By Mario Tama/Getty Images)