The first and last to offer thanks
The dedication of the American Veterans Memorial in Ash Flat Nov. 10 drew a crowd we estimated at more than 400, despite the cold drizzle, for a fitting tribute to a remarkable undertaking. The monument itself is extraordinary, far exceeding expectations.
Col. Jerry Bowen (U.S. Army, ret.) from Jonesboro arrived barely in time for the ceremony; he stopped on the way to deliver remarks at the VFW-sponsored Veterans Day assembly at Highland High School. He told the students how Americans have always answered the call to defend freedom, even when it was not our own freedom that was in jeopardy.
Americans liberated Europe, he said, though "we didn't have a dog in that fight." And that same spirit was present in Vietnam, where we fought to defend freedom against the tyranny of communism. Unlike World War II, Vietnam ended in victory for our enemy, aided and abetted by the "gatekeepers" of our own culture -- academia, Hollywood, the media.
Col. Bowen said the World War II generation is appropriately called "The greatest generation" for the sacrifices they willingly made to stop enemies of freedom. But our soldiers made the same sacrifices in Vietnam, he said, without receiving the same honor upon their return.
In our view, it was not so much the American public who failed to honor our soldiers returning from Vietnam as it was those cultural gatekeepers, whose negative portrayal of the Vietnam soldier stood in sharp contrast to their earlier, heroic portrayal of the World War II soldier.
It was ultimately a clash of ideology. Our cultural elite makes a distinction between fascism and communism; condemning the former, promoting the latter. But fascism and communism are mirror images. Both systems are expansionistic, both ruthlessly crush dissent and both deprive liberty to the people, who surrender their independence to the state.
In one sense, it was appropriate to project opposition to the Vietnam War onto the soldiers we drafted to fight it. It is a uniquely American concept that when we go to war, our soldiers know they are fighting for more than country, they're fighting for freedom itself.
Soldiers in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperialistic Japan served their countries in obedience without understanding. They did not fight for any principle, let alone freedom; they had to set aside their revulsion at the unspeakable atrocities committed by their own leaders. Soldiers of North Korea and North Vietnam fought -- bravely, fiercely -- for pride, for country, perhaps for honor, but not for freedom. They obediently surrendered their lives after they had already surrendered their souls to the state.
Today, in Iraq and Afghanistan Islamic terrorists, brainwashed and consumed with hatred, fight the Great Satan to win heavenly rewards. But they couldn't prevent the turnout of millions of Afghan and Iraqi citizens in national elections, voting in higher percentages than American voters -- proof that the hunger for freedom is universal.
Our soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, all volunteers, are not just fulfilling their obligations, they are fully engaged at every level in this attempt to bring liberty to people who have never known it. The abundance of correspondence from our armed forces tell us they understand their mission and have made enormous strides, despite the constant presence of insurgents.
Should civil war or politics or unforeseen circumstances prevent ultimate success in Afghanistan or Iraq, the seeds of liberty will still have been sown in the hearts of the people, thanks to the American military who gave them a taste of freedom.
With an early Thanksgiving this year and the dedication of the Americans Veterans Memorial fresh on our minds, we are reminded to include veterans in the list of blessings for which we give thanks to God.
And while we're giving thanks for our veterans, we should also give thanks to our veterans. Col. Bowen told the Highland students that the average age of a World War II veteran is now 86, and hundreds die every day, but they still deserve honor for their service. And for the Vietnam veterans, that same honor is long overdue.
He urged the students to each take the time to thank a World War II vet, adding, "You may be the last one to thank him."
And he told them to also thank a Vietnam vet: "You may be the first one to thank him."