Thursday, July 27, 2006

Memories of War

I was seven the first time I saw a double-amputee. I already knew about the war, meaning World War Two, and had seen amputees before. But I was caught by surprise this time. It was summer and I was with my parents and brothers at a lake that had a sandy beach. My brothers were off somewhere and I was sent to get some ice cream at the concession stand and was waiting, the last in line, when I noticed a man behind me with two children smaller than myself. The man was walking on his knees and was only slightly taller than the children. And then I did a double take and realized he had no lower legs. My father later said he was a war veteran and I nodded. Like I said, I had seen other amputees. Every so often there are moments when war hits home.

John Baiata of NBC News has an article on that subject:
We'd gone to an early matinee, and emerged hungry for lunch. Making our way to a nearby shopping center, I noticed two Vietnam veterans outside, flanking either side of the entrance.

(snip)

I fished a $5 bill from my pocket and handed it to Alexa as we approached, and told her to ask politely for a flag. "Any donation is appreciated," he said to me, and handed Alexa a flag. She promptly went into a ballerina-style spin, twirling the flag above her head. "I love to watch the children," he said softly, casting his knowing gaze on her.

Before she could prance away, I pulled her to my side, and knelt beside his wheelchair.

"Alexa, did you know that this man was a soldier? He went to a very dangerous place, so that our country could be safe." Her big, brown eyes turned deadly serious, and I felt a wave of emotion roll over me, my stomach doing flips.

I thought of all the bulletins that have crossed out of Afghanistan and Iraq: "Three U.S. soldiers killed by a roadside bomb," “Eleven dead in a chopper crash," and on and on — tallying what Lincoln famously described as "the terrible arithmetic" of war.

The whole piece is worth reading. What should we teach our children? What should we ask them to remember? How do we protect them? And how do we help them be wise when their time comes to make terrible decisions?

Here's another story, this one from Reuters:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday directed more than 2,500 U.S. troops who have spent the past year in Iraq to stay up to four months past their scheduled departure date, boosting the size of the U.S. force amid unrelenting violence in Baghdad, officials said.

My niece's boyfriend returned from Iraq some six months ago. I have no doubt he will be returning to Iraq soon. I have lost track of how old he is. Twenty-one? Maybe twenty-two. I will have to ask my brother.

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