Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veterans Day 2004

I salute my brother and sister Veterans and I especially salute those that have picked up the torch from us and fight today so that we may still be free. - Sailor


New York Post

November 11, 2004 -- "We few, we happy few, we band of
brothers . . . " — Wm. Shakespeare (Henry V)

IT'S late night, maybe 10:30 already, and I'm outside putting the trash out for the morning pick-up. I pause for a moment and enjoy the unusual warmth and the sound of crickets and cicadas chattering in the trees. It's their last gasp, as the coming cold weather will soon silence them for the winter months.

A warm breeze wafts in from the plains of Kansas and, as it sweeps up over the bluffs, it brings with it the sound of distant volley firing.

The rifle ranges at Fort Leavenworth. Remarkable because they are small and hardly ever used. The home of the Command and General Staff College, the only operational units there tend to be in the military police garrison.

Odd they should be operating at this time of the night, but then, after more than two decades as a line officer, I have been there before. I know the feel of the hot summer night, the buzz of insects as sweat rolls down your nose, the sharp report and recoil of the weapon and the acrid smell of cordite.

What, one wonders, are they getting ready for? Is it a routine familiarization firing? But seldom are these done so late at night. More than likely it is some unit — probably National Guard or Reserves — doing what they can to get ready for a deployment overseas.

That means Iraq. Or Afghanistan.

It also means long separations. Children who sleep with their arms locked around their teddy bears and their cheeks stained with tears; wives, or husbands, who jump when the phone rings. Long sleepless nights and dreams that startle one awake sweating and shivering at once. Prayers uttered in silence or aloud for the safe return of a loved one and the solemn, horrific knowledge that some of these prayers won't be answered.

Some children will grow to adulthood without fathers, perhaps without mothers. The thought is enough to bring you to tears.

But infinitely worse is the thought of what if . . . What if there were no one who was willing to shoulder the burdens carried by the men and women of our armed forces?

I go back inside the house where my two young sons are sleeping and think back on a chat with an old friend over lunch one day. We have been friends, fellow soldiers, for over 30 years.

He talked about his retirement and one of his last tours — commanding a tank battalion during the first Gulf War. It was a unit I had commanded in beforehand, and I had given him my "leadership tabs" for good luck — an old tradition. He smiled thinking about it, then remarked that he had a son who was now assigned to the same outfit — a scout. Shaking his head he said, "I don't know him."

All those years away from home. All those tours of duty, those long separations, the danger, the adrenaline highs, the loneliness, the broken homes.

My friend said that in many ways he'd missed watching his son grow up. But when I asked him, "If you knew then what you know now, would you have chosen another career?" He shook his head. "No." No other career that he knew of was so important.

Now we hear on the radio or TV constant reports of how many of our sons and daughters have died in Iraq or Afghanistan — over 1,000. And we hear critics saying that enough is enough, and we should not be engaged and should bring the troops home as soon as possible. But the troops disagree.

When President Bush visited a young soldier in the hospital, he found that the man had lost his leg to a landmine in Iraq — but, when the president asked what the soldier wanted, the young man replied that he wanted nothing so much as to get on with his recovery and to rejoin his brothers in arms as soon as possible. This is the stuff dreams are made of. Sad dreams but proud . . . and praiseworthy.

The arithmetic of combat is a terrible thing. Yes, we've lost over 1,000 brave men and women to a terrible enemy over the past year. But, when you start the tally, don't forget about a previous math problem: 3,000 men and women — brokers, waiters, policemen, secretaries, firemen, emergency workers, janitors, airline pilots, grandmothers, children. They died in this fight as well.

They did not choose to fight. They were simply living their lives and the enemy made the decision for them, and they died not over a period of a year, or two, or three — they died over the course of a couple of hours. Don't ever forget that.

The brave men and women of our armed forces fight — and sometimes die — by choice. Because they believe in the value of what they are doing for all of the policemen and firemen and brokers and secretaries and janitors. They risk their all for us and the least we can do is say thank you . . . and God speed.

Frederick J. Chiaventone, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, is a retired Army officer who taught counterterrorism at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College.

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