At Thanksgiving dinners across the nation yesterday, many Americans shared thoughts of gratitude over cranberries and stuffing. Some, most I would hope made mention of our troops in harms way and expressed wishes for their safe return.
After more than 11 years in Afghanistan, America and her soldiers have grown weary. As a nation we’ve become inured to the violence and the deaths of our young men and women. Incidents like the urinating on Taliban fighters, burning Qurans or a soldier, in his 4th deployment killing 17 civilians are becoming too frequent. America is divided on their support of the war and politicians refer to it only as political expedience.
History’s lesson is that war is a destructive force of man which rarely produces a winner. Returning Vietnam veterans were mostly ignored, often reviled. Since then we’ve learned to show our support for our troops regardless of our feelings about the war in which they’re engaged. But our attention has limits, our interest is mostly commanded by things affecting our personal lives and attention-getting headlines of a 24-hr news cycle. How, then do we maintain both perspective and perseverance?
I recently had the solemn honor of escorting the remains of a young Army Corporal previously listed as MIA, now identified as a POW who died in 1951 in a notorious POW camp in North Korea to his final resting place in Evergreen Park, IL. Most of us only know about Korea from the TV show M.A.S.H., but it wasn’t quite so funny for those who were there. Later that day I attended the funeral of man who served in Korea and succumbed, at age 81 to Parkinson Disease. Those two events juxtaposed into a day in my life were thought provoking, to say the least.
Both men described above went to Korea barely out of their teens, their lives in front of them and feeling indestructible. Chester Roper was captured by the North Koreans and died, along with his dreams and aspirations shortly thereafter at the hands of brutal captors. James Patz survived the war, went on to live a full life (12 grandchildren) and suffered a debilitating disease which took his life. Two men, two different stories, buried on the same day. One enjoyed 60 years of life that was denied the other. Both signed checks, payable to their country for an amount up to and including their very lives. Neither believed their checks would be cashed.
People need to be reminded that our young men and women are putting their lives on the line for us every day. Men like 24-yr old Conner Lowry, whose remains came home in time for the South Side Irish Parade (March 11, 2012) in Chicago, an event that he cherished and was dedicated to his service and his sacrifice. This is not about the legitimacy of any specific war or the utility of war. It’s about our children and the children of our neighbors who answer the call to make sacrifices beyond their years.
In 1960 JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. One thing we can do for our country, in return for all that she offers each and every one of us is to respect and honor the service and the sacrifice of our young men and women and keep them ever-present in our minds.
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