News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, MAY 29, 2006


Memorial Day reminds us to honor sacrifice, courage

One Vietnam mistake that the United States must not repeat with Iraq is failing to honor the service and sacrifices of our fighting men and women.

Historians see many parallels between the two wars. As The Associated Press notes, each war was far from home, was intended to shape the political future of another country, and was complicated by a resourceful resistance among the local population. Americans tried to hand over the fighting to their local allies, but found it hard to pull away. Meanwhile, public support dwindled in the United States.

But veterans told AP there is a difference in the way people at home look at the troops.

"It's not like Vietnam," said Bruce Oliver, who was a 20-year-old Marine when he arrived in Vietnam and who recently came home to Georgia from a year's duty in Iraq as a sergeant with the Army National Guard. "When you came home from there (Vietnam), people asked you, 'How many people did you kill?' They treated you like second-class citizens."

Another American veteran of both wars, Steve Budnick, worries that if "negative press" persists and "push comes to shove," then "it wouldn't take much to turn against the soldiers" as with Vietnam.

Let's hope, though, that Americans have learned not to blame soldiers for simply doing their job. No sane person likes war. All of its casualties are tragic. But military service people do not make the policies. Their job is to follow orders from the policymakers, who are ultimately responsible to the people for what they decide to do.

All we can ask is that our military people respect the chain of command, do their best to accomplish their assignments, and remain loyal to their country. That's asking a lot. It requires skill and bravery. For some, it means dying.

Another difference between Vietnam and Iraq is a much-lower casualty count for the current war. About 2,460 Americans have been killed in Iraq; the toll was more than 58,000 in Vietnam. There, U.S. military deaths averaged 19 a day; in Iraq, the average is two.

But every death, as well as every other act of sacrifice, deserves reflection, appreciation and respect. Today, Memorial Day, all Americans should think about what hundreds of thousands have given up through many wars in defense of our country and in advancement of our ideals.

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