War, whether it takes place on foreign soil or within our own borders, has always been a part of the American experience.
It didn’t matter the war’s official name. It didn’t matter if it was the Spanish American War, the Battle of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Grenada, Operation Desert Storm, the Iraqi War or the more nebulous “War on Terror.”
Each of those wars, from the clearly more defined mission of World War II to the debatable (some say misleading and false) evidence gathered in preparing for the second Gulf War, and with all the smaller military actions in between, was placed before the American people as a necessary step, one where the very security of the United States was threatened.
As Americans duly noted this past week, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War has come and gone, and those who served were recognized for their gallant efforts.
In South Paris this past weekend, about a dozen of those Korean War veterans gathered at the VFW Post 9787 to be recognized. These heroes demonstrated an unwavering commitment to their country, and those who returned from the war led mostly successful lives, raised and supported their families and became integral parts of their collective communities.
For all of that, it took America 60 years to say thanks.
Maybe that has something to do with how we view war in the 21st century, and how our attitudes toward military service have evolved for nearly half a century.
That era was crafted by our experience in Vietnam. More than any other, the Vietnam War – the daily updates by the late Walter Cronkite kept the war’s progress in our living rooms and kitchens – the war in Vietnam divided a nation, devastated communities and forever changed how we picture it in our thoughts and, all too often, in our civic and political lives.
For many, Hollywood cemented those images with epic films such as “Born On The 4th of July,” “Platoon” and “The Deer Hunter.” Each became a macabre moment in the annals of war, each demonstrably different but all equally poignant.
And those were just the movie depictions of Vietnam, something we seldom saw about Korea and what those soldiers experienced.
We should never lose sight of the fact that war is bloody. War is costly. And yes, war can be divisive. The Korean War was no different. Millions of lives were lost, and both sides remain as distant today as they were then. If you really want a surreal image of the Korean War, a walk through the Korean War memorial in the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., becomes a stark reminder of just how overwhelming that war was.
The veterans who were honored in South Paris have spent the past 60 years alternately living their lives and recalling those horrific moments of war.
As Americans embark on the new frontier of fighting an enemy we often can’t see, rarely get to communicate with and one that has discarded all rules of engagement, the thought emerges as to how we move forward, and what we need to do different.
One way to start is the way we treat our veterans. Salutes on holidays such as Memorial Day and July 4 are important. But we have to do more, especially when it comes to healthcare and treating returning soldiers who suffer from post traumatic stress disorders and other war-related conditions.
For their part, today’s returning war veterans, many in their 20s and 30s, need to sign up with their local VFW posts and become active participants in them. The gentlemen who fought in the Korean War would gladly welcome the help and the insight of a younger generation.
This past Saturday, July 27, 2013, a generation of war veterans passed the torch of generational leadership and wartime valor. It would be the ultimate salute in their honor for all of us to grab it with a firm grip, and to make sure their heroic efforts were not in vain.