A Measure of Respect For Those Who Served
Some words of remembrance for Veterans Day
Any day of the week is the proper time to consider those young Americans who fought in heat, snow and slime in foreign places such as Cantigny, Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Some of those wars were undeclared, limited or police actions, and such wars are alien to our tradition. For example, the U.S. never had a defense treaty with South Vietnam. All we had was a diplomatic treaty which gave us permission to have an envoy’s office in Saigon.
More than 50,000 American fatalities and more than 120,000 casualties occurred in that war— all over an envoy’s office.
They fought, as did their brethren before them, not for loot because there was none; not for glory for there was little of that around; their homeland, in some cases, was not threatened; their fellow countrymen at home made no companion sacrifices; and there was no crusader’s zeal that drove them on.
The question remains: What made them do it and do it so well beyond the minimum requirements that the uniform ordains?
It has been said that they were professional soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, but young men and women at 17, 18, 19 or 20 years old are professional at nothing, certainly not at managing the meeting of life with death.
They fought, they endured even though, sometimes, they did not understand the geopolitics of the distant war they were in; even when thousands of their countrymen told them every day, in protest and parade, that the war they fought was a senseless war.
But our young GIs kept marching in step, shooting at moving targets, facing another Tet Offensive or dodging adherents of a different and strange culture wrapped as human bombs who walked into nursery schools, offices and markets and kill innocent people.
The real answer on why our military is so dedicated to our survival must lie deep in the tissues of whatever is the substance that keeps America from becoming unglued; it must have something to do with their parents and teachers and pastors, with their 4-H clubs, the Y, Little League, Vacation Bible School, scout troops and neighborhood youth centers.
It has to do with the sense of belonging to a team, with the dishonor of letting them down. But it also has to do with their implicit, unyielding belief in their country and their national belief in themselves as persons — persons who believe in God.
Whatever the full answer, it is a considerable thing that they have done and are doing when they stick at this kind of war, fighting without universal support, and fighting for results obscured in the mist of the future.
Veterans Day is an impersonal symbol to take note of something intensely personal. But it provides an opportunity for the rest of us who are not covered with mud and weariness and nightly fear to pay a measure of respect.
We salute you, our fellow comrades-in-arms— past, present and future.
Colonel Elvin C. Bell