n 1998, after nearly 30 years working in the entertainment industry and living in Los Angeles, I moved to San Francisco to run the local PBS station, KQED. Moving from a company town like Hollywood where I had developed many professional relationships and personal friendships, to a totally unfamiliar, cosmopolitan city like San Francisco was nothing short of culture shock. My life, which revolved around the ups and downs of the network television business and living the good life, took on some novel dimensions. Instead of spending time at smoky comedy clubs with up and coming comedians, or at lavish movie premieres with movers and shakers, or at all night parties at the Playboy Mansion, I was now going to the ballet, the Philharmonic, exclusive dinner parties on Nob Hill, art openings at SF MOMA, Shakespeare at Stinson Beach and poetry readings at Francis Coppola's Napa winery. And, instead of being surrounded by the "beautiful people" I was now hobnobbing with local politicians, having intense conversations with community activists, sipping tea with wealthy dowagers and sitting in think-tanks with Silicon Valley moguls. My new colleagues at PBS liked to say they "rescued my character" from a decadent life in Beverly Hills.
One Bay Area event that's become a regular occurrence on my schedule is the annual Memorial Day ceremony in the San Francisco National Cemetery, a breathtaking final resting place for 30,000 of the nation's military veterans. The cemetery rests on a slope in the Presidio, a national park and former military base characterized by majestic wooded hills and scenic vistas overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific.
Every year, the 90-minute ceremony draws many hundreds of people who remember our deceased veterans with great respect and style. There's an Armed Services Orchestra playing stirring patriotic music, political and religious leaders who give moving speeches, poets, singers and others who offer other forms of tribute. The event ends with a flyover of Coast Guard Helicopters, a 21-gun salute and Taps played by a lone uniformed bagpiper standing amid endless rows of simple white tombstones.
All and all it's an impressive experience that gave me a heartfelt sense that I had expressed some measure of gratitude for the supreme sacrifice made by my fellow countrymen, before I went to the beach or a barbecue or to take advantage of the Memorial Day sales.
But since the end of the Iraq War and now that Afghanistan is winding down, and so many living Veterans are returning home, I've become increasingly discontent with the quality of my tribute as compared to the sacrifices these brave people continue to make on my behalf. I realize that for all these veterans have given, many of them are coming home wounded in body or spirit to a society that, while it unanimously honors their service, doesn't really know how to reward and repatriate them.
For a few years, I've been looking for a way to do more to make a real difference in the lives of these heroes and maybe in the country whose future I've become increasingly concerned about.
As I've thought about this and listened to people like Paul Reickhoff, the Iraq War vet who started the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, and Eric Greitens, the Rhodes Scholar, author and former Navy Seal who founded The Mission Continues, I have realized what they understood years ago -- that veterans are a major asset to this country. They haven't changed. Only their circumstances have changed. So rather than giving them something for their past service, I think we should honor them asking them to give even more. Now that they're back home, I'd like to ask them to use their skills, their training, their experience and their passion to teach people like me how to help make this country a better place for all of us.
In the coming weeks, people whose names you'll actually recognize will lend their voices and their support to an effort to put our Veterans front and center here, at home, the new front lines of a new war against poverty, pollution, ignorance and polarization. The blogs they will write will be under a banner that will read OPERATION: USA. Please look for it. Lend your voices and your opinions to it, and let's actually do something to get this country moving again.
On the morning of every Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon, when it is raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of our country. At noon their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.
It's time to raise the flag.