and we were sharp. as sharp as knives. and we were so gung ho to lay down our lives.
it’s difficult for people my age to truly remember vietnam as anything more than a piece of the country’s history. we remember the nightly news, the pictures, the horror; but i don’t think we truly grasp the turmoil and the polarization that this nation experienced. one of the earliest memories i have is of this young girl running away from her accidentally-napalmed village. she was about my age; and the photo riveted me, making me wonder whether i would possess her strength and courage if the tables were turned.
in the early 1980s, newsweek published an incredibly eloquent story about charlie company in vietnam. we had subscribed to newsweek as far back as i could remember; it was my number one news source as a child because unlike the new york times (which i also read, as well as the asbury park press), it had the most vivid photos. (and i would read this at breakfast, which was probably not the smartest thing to do; i thought i was going to be sick many times, especially after photos of victims of ugandan despot idi amin and after the whole jim jones guyana episode.) when i read the article about charlie company, it brought it all home to me. yes, i knew my family had been against the vietnam war; i knew we hadn’t agreed with nixon or any of his policies.
but these were just a few of the guys who didn’t have the luxury of agreeing or disagreeing with policies and politics. for whatever reason, whether they were true believers or whether they simply could not escape the draft, here they were, in southeast asia, fixing to kill or die. my heart was wrenched reading about those who made it and those who did not. and for the first time, vietnam became more than just a piece of history to me.
i suspect billy joel had read the same article, too.
anyway, it’s memorial day. and while i have ranted about the non-vets who take the opportunity to invade our nation’s capitol with their noisy motorcycles and often rude selves, i will think more on the people who did what they felt they had to do — or were forced to do — by a government that insisted upon it. if there’s only one thing we’ve learned since vietnam, we have learned that we appreciate the soldiers, even if we completely disagree with their mission.
and so it is with iraq.
so godspeed those serving in iraq. i’m appalled at how many soldiers have been lost for an operation that was misguided in its efforts to uproot terrorism. i’m ashamed at my country for putting them in harm’s way for the wrong reason. their lives are all precious; and no one should ever have to die because his or her president is trying to even the score for his father. i hope instead that we redouble our efforts to become safer in a world where the original culprits still linger and flourish.
i truly hope our current vets all come home. safely.