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Thu, April 18

Column: Take care of the veterans to whom we owe so much

Did you enjoy the Veterans Day Parade? It is the one Great Day to honor our men and women who served, watch the bands, the flags, the thrilling display of pride as we are reminded just how much we owe those who wear and wore the uniform.

My father served in World War II, my husband was a corpsman in Vietnam, my grandson is in the Navy stationed at Coronado. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, my father, like tens of thousands of young men, joined the Army Air Forces immediately. Stationed in England with the 450th Bomb Squadron of the 322nd Group, he recalls flying over France on a mission when the propeller fell off the plane. Land the plane in a farmer's field, find some baling wire and have a French farmer and three airmen get the propeller back on the fuselage and fasten it on with a wire used for hay. Take off and make it back to base. To fly again, fight again and try to save humanity from the clutches of evil.

We are a country divided by politics. Yet, our military men and women stay above the fray. They do not question orders, debate the worthiness of a conflict, rail or protest against a President or their leaders. They follow the full faith and force of the military code - to go, walk, run, drive, fly, sail and march into the darkness of battle. No sissies allowed. We have learned as a country that we may hate a war (Vietnam) but we better make sure we honor the soldiers who went there.

Listening to Beatles music and dreaming of a new Mustang, graduating from high school and swept off to the jungles of the Viet Cong into a world (and war) that was pretty much incomprehensible. We could not win it. We could not imagine the terror and suffering that our young boys felt. We never thought it would be like this. But they served, went, sacrificed and died because our country went to war.

I had a girlfriend in Ohio named Maria who was young and pregnant, when the black sedan pulled into her driveway and two Army officers in full dress uniforms, got out and walked up to her door. She locked the door. Screamed, "Do not come in," ran to her bedroom. She called her mother. Wept, threw a lamp and one hour later the two men were still standing at her door. She let them in to a barrage of swear words that she didn't even realize she knew. She cussed at the President, the officers and the world that made her a widow at the age of 19.

Some gave all. So this past Veterans Day, while we might have enjoyed the parade, there is a woman in Virginia who goes to Arlington with a blanket, a thermos of coffee, a bouquet of flowers and a tarnished wedding photo. To lie on the grave of her husband. To take in the loss that is hers. To realize that a war occurred in a place called Iraq, a place she will never go to, never wants to think of, and that her husband on the last week of his third mission was killed. Gone in an instant. But never forgotten. Because life can end but memories don't.

So the woman can lie on the blanket placed in front of her husband's gravestone and look out at the thousands of white markers that shout out, "we were alive once." My friend, Maria, found comfort in touching the name of her husband, Ted, on the Vietnam Wall. She left the photo of their daughter that he never knew at the base of the Wall. A thousand parents touch the neatly folded flag that was given to them, when what they really wanted was their son or daughter to come walking through the door.

So here we are. In the midst of another "conflict" with our service members doing their jobs (at great risk) for this nation. We may have strong feelings about the current wars. Some will say that Iraq was a waste of time. Well, that's politics I suppose. But we lost our sons and daughters in that "conflict," and best not to call anything that costs a life a "waste." Our promise to our veterans is that "we will take care of you." Our government will not forsake you and never forget that you proudly, bravely and without hesitation served our country.

Historians will analyze the effectiveness of wars we fought in and our elected officials will decide on the new wars we will have to fight. But the "we" is really a group of devoted, loyal, highly trained, brave men and women who have chosen to join the military. Their commitment never ends, their work often underestimated, their experiences are often unimaginable.

So if you are an employer, hire a vet! They are no slackers, they show up, think on their feet, follow through, strive for excellence, know how to work through challenge. If you have extra time, volunteer at the Veterans Hospital. See what the lingering consequences of combat are in the servicemen who need our help. Veterans Day is so much more than a parade. But it exemplifies how thankful we are and how much we owe our men and women who fought, fight and serve.

Judy Bluhm is writer and a local Realtor. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at judy@judybluhm.com.

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