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Editorial: To My Fellow Veterans: Remember The War Dead

I was horrified this week to see, on TV, former soldiers chucking their military service medals over barricades, in the direction of the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, during the scheduled NATO summit. Their decision to return the medals was a message to NATO leaders that they detest U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the U.S. participation in foreign wars. They are disappointed with how they have been treated, both within the “system” and by the general public, since returning home.

By entering the military by choice, it’s no secret that the mission could involve war, or damn near close to it. I am a military veteran and I knew I was not signing up for a luxury cruise. I was signing up on the heels of the first Gulf War. I knew I was going to ride 100,000 tons of steel through the Pacific Ocean, in and around the Gulf, and literally around the world, and be a part of a ship’s crew positioned between China and Taiwan, to ensure the people of Taiwan could simply maintain their freedom to vote, ready to absorb the wrath of the mainland communists if that is what had been intended.

No one entering the military on their own free will should be surprised that they will be commanded to execute a mission that does not agree with their morals or standards. There is no room for an opinion or to debunk rank and authority. It’s not summer camp, kids. It’s war, or peacetime with a potential of becoming war, even if it’s being call a “conflict,” it’s war.

Be 19 years old, standing in downtown Seoul, South Korea and hear the air raid sirens activated, and try to remember that you are now at the mercy of the mission, while fighting your natural instinct to call home crying for a plane ticket home.

Not yet 20 years old, maintaining a military bearing while stifling an immense opinion about the world is a challenge in itself. It has been this way for thousands of years, for as many young men and women in the military; they are young, and are entrusted with a super-human load of responsibility; and not nearly enough debriefing during the offload.

Many returning soldiers’ experiences with returning home after war bear a shadowy resemblance to how the public reacted to soldiers returning home from Vietnam in the ’70s. Here’s one difference, decades ago a draft was in place; young men did not have much of a choice, being forced into action, into serving the nation’s international interests. Today, every single one of these medal-less veterans who do claim to have entered proudly into the military, are now ashamed of fulfilling their obligation.

That will be the argument; that I cannot agree with these veterans’ dishonorable act because I served during peacetime-conflict, and not conflict-war, I cannot possibly know the isolation, burden, memories, nightmares they will carry for the rest of their lives.

About the medal “throwing,” the discussion I had with a fellow legionnaire, who had served honorably in Vietnam, had witnessed the casualties of war and made it home alive, although proud of his service, now more than 30 years later, said he could identify with the way these soldiers are feeling. He said the transition back to civilian life after he had been drafted and been forced to serve in a capacity against his own morals has shaped the rest of his life, but he is thankful to just be alive.

Alive. Had any of these medal “chucking” veterans, God forbid, not made it back with their life, these medals would have meant more to the ones left holding them. They would symbolize pride for service to this nation, for protecting world freedom, for giving their lives so honorably and selflessly.

The nation will pause Monday to remember this nation’s war dead of dozens of wars and conflicts, spanning decades. Vets, please take pride in your service. Fulfill your obligation and consider helping the rest of us carry out the task of “never forget.”

We are more than 250,000 strong on Long Island, in whatever capacity, with whatever level of pride you have, you are one of us and the mission includes to protect fellow vets and ensuring that America “never forgets” those who gave some, and those who gave all.

— CH