To our veterans:
You have lived in a different world, one that we civilians can never know. While you were away, our lives continued in safety and without fear. Your family welcomed you back with open arms, but your return was and is important to a larger community. We of the 21st century need to understand and appreciate what you have witnessed.
You, now the oldest, went to war some 70 years ago, youngsters having been raised amid the nation’s greatest economic depression. Your fellow Americans went to work, producing crops and food, planes, ships and tanks. Everyone, in one way or another, participated, and in September 1945, they all felt that they were a part of the victory. We call you the “greatest generation.”
Five years later, some of you returned to duty at a new front, joined by a new group of youngsters. Life at home continued without much attention to our soldiers’ winters in Korea. Communism made headlines, but your friends and siblings watched “I Love Lucy” on TV, went to movies featuring Marilyn Monroe and read about Charlie Brown’s adventures in the daily comics. More than 350,000 of you served; too many did not return. Neither parades nor crowds welcomed those of you who did. Your time “over there” became the forgotten war. When you as Korean War veterans rejoined civilian ranks, married and raised your families, you couldn’t have known that your sons, turning 18 in 1969, would watch a lottery drawing on television to find out their number in the draft for duty in yet another faraway place.
You, those sons, soldiers of the Vietnam War, lived through dangers of the battlefield, but even far away, you also felt the turmoil of what was happening at home. Bob Dylan’s words echoed in song, “Times They are a Changin’.” Your contemporaries “questioned authority,” and Watergate’s aftereffects shadowed your government. Black Power and Flower Power colored the news along with assassinations and a man on the moon. More than a half million of you served; again, too many did not come home. Those who did faced spit upon your uniforms. Then, as years passed, it was your turn to watch your sons and your daughters grow up. They could, of their own accord, volunteer for the United States military.
You veterans, grandchildren of the “’50s generation,” left in 1990 for a different kind of war, members of an international coalition of two dozen nations. Desert Storm, with all the efficiency and force of the newest technology, ousted an invading Iraqi dictator from Kuwait, and CNN provided around-the-clock news coverage. Completely tuned in to your days and nights while you were away, your friends and neighbors united to celebrate your homecoming.
Now, in this 21st century, our country is at war against the forces that attacked our homeland on Sept. 11, 2001. Even with our exceptional electronic connections, we cannot fully grasp that other world in which our members of the military live. While our troops breathe in sand and listen for the sounds that might mean their death, the routines of our lives go on. The World Series and Monday Night Football entertain us; politics, elections and sustainable energy divide us; school and work claim our attention; but we, the people at home, insist upon our government’s responsibility to help all of you return to a full and productive life.
Veterans, you bestow upon us a heritage that will clarify decisions that must be made in the years ahead. On this 93rd anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, America observes a national holiday. Today, we unite to honor you.
Harriet Freiberger has lived in the Elk River Valley since 1982.