By Dennis Minich
This month it has been our pleasure to present a number of stories featuring veterans from a wide variety of fields. Some of them were planned.
With “The Traveling Wall” coming to Harrisonville in two weeks, we thought it would be a good opportunity to highlight the stories of the people who lived the Vietnam experience.
But as coincidence would have it, a number of non-Vietnam stories have arisen including the story of Charles McDaniel, the former MIA veteran of the Korean War, whose remains were returned to the United States last year; the story of Lester Rusher, a home-sick sailor who died on the USS Arizona in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
We hope to continue to tell stories in the coming weeks.
While I stated this was coincidence, in some respects it’s really not. There are thousands of stories of people who have served our nation, including many who paid the ultimate sacrifice, that are just never told. Recently we have been listening. Part of it is because of the wall, part of it is because of the power of the Memorial Day celebrations and part of it is because we’ve heard some stories we’ve never heard before, but finally some of these stories are being told.
Looking back, there is no limit to the stories of bravery which our veterans inspire.
As one who never served in the military, I cannot fathom the details of military life, in peacetime, or in war. My heart is touched every time I hear the stories these veterans can tell, whether it was my Uncle at Saipan and Tarawa, his younger brother in Korea, a dear friend of mine who was part of the liberation of the Philippines, my many friends who served during Vietnam and other events in more recent years or the young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
These are all tremendous stories, but almost without exception, the problem is they don’t want to talk about it. Getting these men and women to talk is hard because I think there are things they try to forget or things they may simply don’t want to talk about. Those feelings are understandable, but are also a shame because too many of us take for granted our liberties and while we pay lip service to our veterans, we never really understand what they went through.
Every war since before this country was officially founded, has been full of men and women with stories to tell. Because of history books we know some about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. But even in their details, we cannot fathom the fear, despair and courage of those who actually fought.
Other wars, from the War of 1812 to the Spanish-American War, gain little space in the history books unless you are a scholarly reader. We hear a little of World War I, although understanding the inhumane nature of the war is never fully explained.
World War II is a war we’ve all heard about more, partly because some veterans remained and those who would talk about it taught us much. But it was the first war where there were movie cameras so some of the story was shown in near-real time.
Korea was a non-war and seems to be treated that way in history and then we come to Vietnam. There are many truths about Vietnam. Many Americans were against the war and since many of those same people headed for academia, they choose to downplay the American story.
Veterans were treated so badly, many never admitted they were there. Many are just now “coming out of the closet” and wearing their veterans hats. The valor of our troops was not matched by integrity in our civilian and military leaders and the end result was the loss of thousands of American lives for a cause which still cannot be rightfully explained.
America has a new appreciation for its veterans. They are probably not being taken care of as they should be and we know many suffer from physical and mental issues we cannot imagine.
While the government still fails many of them, at least we as a nation appreciate, applaud and support our troops and our veterans.
I am so proud we have been able to share some of the stories. I urge you to look to next week’s South Cass Tribune where we will feature the stories from Vietnam, as well as plan to visit the Traveling Wall when it arrives in town at the end of the month. We need to remember.