Monday, May 26, 2008

We Remember...

I grew up in a place where an Air Force base was in close proximity. Even though Brevard County was pretty much a company "town" (the space industry) as far as I could tell, you would come into contact with former and current military people every single day. This was made more apparent by the old vet who had lost an arm in world war two, who's house abutted the woods (former orange grove) where we'd play -- and who didn't always appreciate our zest for life.

While I never served, the military has always been a part of my life. I married a woman who is now retired from the navy, who was very much a pioneer for women in that service. I've worked as an independent contractor for the military, including early development of a virtual reality room where small numbers of soldiers could "war game" situations as a small unit, as well as more sophisticated "table top" war gaming scenarios at a higher level. I've taught guerrilla tactics at the National Defense University. My grad work was paid for by SDIO, and I still maintain privileges as a result of my thesis. After Hurricane Andrew, I worked closely with the 10th Mountain Division down in the Homestead area for four months, repairing housing stock and feeding the displaced. Over the course of my life, I've taught dozens of young airmen how to surf.

So I'm an outsider who's had some experience with those in the military. Many have become friends, so it's always a shock to hear that one has died, especially while stationed overseas.

Such was the case this month. Although he died in Afghanistan two years ago, word of his death took months before reaching his friends.

Unfortunately, this kind of tragedy is something that I've had to learn to live with. I hadn't graduated from college long before I lost a friend from high school (we had a gifted class together -- class size TWO) who was killed in the barracks bombing in Beirut. I was sent as the president's liaison back to my home town for his funeral and memorial services at both the air force base and our high school. His wife was also a friend, a fellow gifted classmate, who had been the best friend for my girlfriend in high school.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like speaking for the president at a service member's funeral. You try to make some sense of a great loss that profoundly effects those left behind. It is a national tragedy that President Bush has hidden from his responsibility in this regard. The families of those who have died in our nation's service often feel like the burden is shared a little if only the president knows their loved one's names. I was able to tell Susan that the president had asked about Wayne and what he was like before sending me down to Florida -- and I know how much that meant (and still means) to her. His senseless death altered the life of his wife and their child, but at least she had a letter from the president to share when the inevitable questions about daddy came.

We do not have to support the president or the war in Iraq to feel the loss of the men and women who have served our country in the military this Memorial Day. One of the lessons that I hope we would learn from our country's experience in Vietnam is that we should not blame our soldiers for following the president's commands. That is their job -- and very few people have exciting jobs where they love everything they do. Soldiers certainly don't.

This administration has taken extraordinary steps to obfuscate the real costs of the president's decisions from the country. And while it may be hidden from the nation as a whole, it is still a painful burden to the small towns and rural areas where many of our soldiers come from. To them, their fallen are heroes, but heroes denied the nation's gratitude by a bitter president who cannot seem to face up to the costs of his decisions.

President Bush has let this nation down, but never more so than by denying these soldiers the kind of last recognition that they deserve. We should not be like the president, ignoring those who have paid the ultimate price for his wrong and immoral decisions. They didn't deserve to die, but die they did.

We as a nation should recognize their sacrifice more often, even as we condemn those who forced it upon us...

brief specs of the fallen
cryptome, always a good resource
veterans for peace

I'll end this diary with a personal note: the letter from my friend's wife asked if I wanted a book that I had given him with the following inscription: "leadership starts from within -- you have to be willing to heed your own commands before you can expect others to follow." I still believe that...