Do you remember your history concerning the 1960’s and 70’s? Flower children. Sit-ins. Protests against the war. The “conflict” that was Vietnam.
My little Lutheran college was not immune.
The year was 1972. I was a freshman, the daughter of an Air Force pilot who had flown in Vietnam. I’ll never forget the day a fellow student — six-foot-five, three hundred pounds, intimidating — found out about my dad.
“So your father incinerated gooks?” His sneer was unmistakable.
“No…” My voice faltered. “It wasn’t like that. His targets were railroads… and airports.”
“So he killed gooks.”
I tried to hold back angry tears. “You don’t know my father. He doesn’t think anyone is a gook.”
A guy who was standing in the crowd that had grown around us came to my rescue. “Leave her alone, Fred.”
As one, the group stepped between me and Fred, and Fred got the message, muttering epithets as he lumbered out of the room. To this day, I can’t read any books, novel or nonfiction, on the topic of Vietnam, kind of a miniature PTSD reaction to the vitriol that spewed from so many mouths of that era.
Yet, I was fortunate. In those years, many people like me didn’t always have friends who would defend them. Soldiers came home and were spit upon.
When my son was deployed to Iraq in the first weeks of the war, he worried that his soldiers would receive similar treatment. He wrote to ask me what the mood of the nation was. What a relief to respond with reassurances. The nation stood behind the troops, cheered them on.
Now that we’ve been mired in Afghanistan and Iraq for years, the mood isn’t quite as patriotic, but I thank God, we have not returned to the scorn and hate of half a century ago. We recognize the sacrifices our soldiers, sailors, and airmen make, willing to lay down their lives.
There is the ideal of going to war for a worthy cause. There is the reality of the horrors involved in every war, righteous or not. And there are the ugly politics of war, when the worthy cause gets twisted by those with other agendas. We live in a fallen world.
Memorial Day should never be about the ugly. May we always honor those who lost their lives serving our nation.