The Vietnam Veterans Memorial as seen on Memorial Day on May 28, 2006. Deliberately setting aside the controversies of the war, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors the men and women who served when their nation called upon them. The designer, Maya Lin, felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives. She kept the design elegantly simple to allow everyone to respond and remember. (Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
Beginning with the Revolutionary War, almost 1.4 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars, including about 667,000 killed in combat. We remember, honor and mourn those gallant souls every year on Memorial Day – May 29 this year. Those Americans who have served in or near war zones carry their memories throughout the year. It should not be just a once-a-year observance for everyone else.
The country’s more recent conflicts, starting with Vietnam, have seen a blurring of the battle lines, where American service personnel have teamed up with local forces to fight a common enemy. For those who have worked hand-in-hand with local forces – South Vietnamese, Iraqis or Afghans – it is hard to forget those local troops who died in the common cause. Although our Memorial Day is for commemoration of our war dead, I think it would also be appropriate to honor those foreign partners on this special day.
For most of my tour in Vietnam, I lived and worked beside South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs), mostly Roman Catholics or members of the Cao Dai Church. As human beings, they had the same hopes and aspirations as most Americans. I trusted them with my life, and I believe most of them felt the same. I can’t think of America’s fallen without thinking of them. Almost 300,000 ARVNs died in the war, and we left many more of them to a horrible fate. They deserve remembrance and respect. I know that many Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan feel the same about their foreign partners. When you form trusting bonds in wartime, it is hard to break them.
Although our bonds with the people of Ukraine are at a different level, where we are mostly non-combat partners providing moral support and weaponry from the sidelines, I have that same feeling about those valiant humans. The Ukrainians are fighting and dying in a war that serves the vital national interests of the United States and NATO, as well as our allies on the other side of the planet. Ukraine is the proverbial point of the spear that protects freedom and democracy from the despotic regimes in Russia, China and Iran.
If we allow Russia to prevail, it will give great encouragement to the autocrats, quite possibly leading to a spread of hostilities to Taiwan and any number of Asian, African and South American nations in the sights of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Although I rarely find issues upon which I totally agree with U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, Ukraine is one such issue – an exceedingly important one. The senator realizes that it is essential to America’s strategic interests that Ukraine prevail in Putin’s genocidal war. I agree with his view that the U.S. needs to increase and expedite the supply of war materiel to Ukraine. Sen. Risch has observed that “the Ukrainians are fighting today for what our founding fathers fought for in 1776.”
Incidentally, that observation was made when the senator recently recalled his meeting in Ukraine with a former Green Beret from Boise, Nick Maimer, who had been volunteering to train Ukrainian civilians in how to defend their country. Maimer was reported to have been killed by Russian artillery fire earlier this month. God rest his soul. He joins thousands of Ukrainians who have died in the fight.
Ukraine has reportedly suffered 124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 killed in action and 109,000-113,500 wounded. Because their fight is largely our fight, it would be most appropriate to remember and mourn them, along with our war dead and our foreign partners who died in supporting American troops. On Memorial Day, I’ll be remembering my 58,220 brothers and sisters who died serving their country in Vietnam. I’ll also be thinking of Lieutenants Dinh and Tanh, Captain Thanh and interpreter Tom, who were with us all the way until we abandoned them to their ugly fate in 1975.
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