The email was passed along to me by my sainted wife of 56 years. It told the story of a veteran who took a treasured photograph of actress Ann Margaret, taken when she was in Viet Nam to entertain the troops, to a bookstore where she was signing copies of her autobiography.
The bookstore announced a firm policy that Ann Margaret would only be signing books, not other memorablia. Still the veteran handed the old photo to the actress, saying he just wanted her to see it. She waved off the bookstore manager, then pulled the vet down and planted a big kiss on him.
It was one of many emails currently circulating around the country which remind all of us of the sacrifices which our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are so courageously making in Iraq, Afganistan and elsewhere.
The Viet Nam veteran closed his letter by noting that it was the first time anyone had expressed appreciation for his service in Southeast Asia.
Happily, the troops in Iraq are enjoying much more unified and enthusiastic support than their fathers did in 1969 and 1970. Back then, the United States was drafting young men to serve in the military. Many eligible lads left the country. many marched on Washington, staged demonstrations on campuses and elsewhere. Their cry of "Hell no, we won't go" echoed through the land.
Veterans returning from that war found themselves in a nation that did not support the war. Many of them felt that their countrymen blamed them for the war; blamed them for the humiliation of defeat. No ticker tape parades, no hero's welcome, they filtered back into civilian life, many feeling embarrassed and confused. Some were bitter. Some still are, despite a belated Viet Nam War monument in the nation's Capitol.
The big difference between Viet Nam and Iraq was 911. Weapons of mass destruction or no, the great mass of American people saw a connection between the attack on New York and Washington and the assauilt on Saddam Hussein. They perceive our troops as being engaged in a form of national defense, and that makes them heroes deserving of our appreciation and admiration.
Unhappily, the sacrifices of our young people in the military becloud our capacity to dialog about national policy. Their blood shed on foreign soil is given for the benefit of every American, and every American owes our troops a debt of gratitude which cannot be extinguished by the GI Bill or other veterans' benefits. But those who have died and suffered have done so to preserve our freedoms, and one of those is the freedom to disagree with the Administration's foreign policy.
The only candidate for President this year who did not vote to support the Iraq War is Barak Obama. I have not heard, but would be interested to hear, what exactly he would have done if he had been President in 2001. He says that as President, he will engage in talks with leaders of other countries, even those whose rhetoric is speckled with hatred for the United States. Would a President Obama have called Saddam Hussein on September 12, 2001 and asked him to help find the people responsible for yesterday's attacks? Would he have simply submitted the matter to the United Nations and waited for their answer? Or would he somehow have obtained better intelligence than President Bush received, devised a better military strategy, and been better able to prosecute the invasion of Iraq and sell it to the American people?
The next nine months will be a political gestation. I hope it brings forth a new birth of our constitutional republic.
Enough for now.
Thomas E. Brennan