Viet-Not: Honoring Iraq War Soldiers
Craig von Buseck
I witnessed an inspirational moment in the Denver airport on my way home recently. I noticed two women and three young boys waiting anxiously by the gate, looking down the long corridor leading to the tarmac. Suddenly, the older of the two women gasped and covered her mouth with her hands as tears formed in the corner of her eyes. A moment later, a suntanned soldier emerged from the door, dressed in desert fatigues and carrying a backpack stenciled with the large black letters, "U.S."
The smiling man walked up first to the older woman and embraced her. As he did, the young boys, who looked to be between 9 and 11-years-old, gathered around, looking up and beaming at the man. After an extended embrace and kiss, the soldier turned to the younger woman and kissed her -- it was one of those "welcome home" kisses that you see on the news or in historical films from the end of World War II.
As soon as the couple finished their touching kiss, another passenger waiting in the terminal asked in a loud voice, "Did you just return from Iraq?" The entire family answered yes. The passenger hollered out, "What do you say, folks," and then started clapping. Immediately the terminal erupted in loud applause -- an ovation that lasted for nearly two minutes. The soldier's sunburned face became even redder than it had been as he looked around somewhat sheepishly. The older woman again wiped away tears and the boys gathered around to embrace the G.I.
The coolest thing about this moving scene was that is was all spontaneous. It was a moment that could have been taken from a Frank Capra movie or a Norman Rockwell painting. But it was happening right in front of me. I found myself singing "ain't that America" from the song "Pink Houses" by John Mellencamp.
As controversial as the liberal media would spin the decision to go to war in Iraq, one thing seemed clear from this incident -- whether all the people at gate C-39 in the Denver airport backed the war in Iraq, they clearly support our soldiers.
With the 2005 death of Vietnam-era commanding General William Westmoreland, it seemed a good time to reflect on how our country has changed since the turbulent '60s and '70s. I'm old enough to remember American soldiers being harassed and booed as they returned from Vietnam. Though most of these soldiers fought with honor, many have struggled since that time with feelings of guilt -- not because of what they had done on the battlefield, but because of the cruel reception the received from some of their fellow citizens.
Growing up in that era, I experienced a very different America than the nation we live in today. It was the height of the Cold War and the Cultural Revolution. The Vietnam War raged on -- and then it was suddenly over. Inflation was running rampant. The Watergate scandal rocked the nation just as it was beginning to recover from the assassinations of John & Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Unemployment was high, and the overall morale of Americans was low.
The United States of America and all it stood for was taking a beating at home and abroad.
- The Communists were waging wars around the world -- aggressively expanding their ideological empire from Angola to Central America.
- Oil prices were skyrocketing, causing fuel shortages and long lines at the gas pumps. I remember the rationing program in my hometown, where we could only fill up our car with gas on even or odd days, depending on the numbers on your license plate.
- Interest rates were at an all time high, keeping many people from the dream of buying a home or investing in a business.
- Islamic militants took 66 American Embassy diplomats and staff hostage in Iran.
- Tragedy struck several months later when two U.S. military planes collided in the Iranian desert in an attempted rescue mission -- reinforcing the perception that America was a nation in decline.
It was a time when American industry was struggling, American products were often sub-standard, the American family was under attack, and American ideals of free enterprise, democracy, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press were being rejected by totalitarian dictators from Idi Amin in Uganda to the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.
And then something changed. It was as if the American people said, "Enough. We've had enough."
Ronald Reagan's campaign slogan in 1984 was "It's morning in America Again." He reminded the American people that the United States -- and all that it stood for -- was a beacon of freedom to millions of people who were living under totalitarian oppression, communist thuggery, religious intolerance, and governmental corruption and control.
"America is," he optimistically declared, "a shining city on a hill."
And Americans believed him.
But most Americans never stopped thinking that way, even through the difficult 1960s and 70s. So Reagan's words were merely a reminder -- and echo of similar words spoken before:
- "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth." -- John Adams
- "The flames kindled on the Fourth of July, 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them." -- Thomas Jefferson
- " The struggle of today, is not altogether for today--it is for a vast future also." -- Abraham Lincoln
- "Our country offers the most wonderful example of democratic government on a giant scale that the world has ever seen; and the peoples of the world are watching to see whether we succeed or fail." -- Theodore Roosevelt
- "Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world." -- Woodrow Wilson
- "We must build a new world, a far better world -- one in which the eternal dignity of man is respected." -- Harry S. Truman
- "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." -- John F. Kennedy
The Reagan revolution, I believe, was really an American revolution -- not breaking away from something, but returning to the way of thinking that made this nation great in the first place -- faith in a benevolent God; defense of the oppressed, both at home and abroad; and support of people around the world who yearn to live free.
Some would say that President George W. Bush promised more than could be delivered when he called for the expansion of democracy and freedom around the world. But I believe that George W. Bush merely extended the promise made by President Kennedy more than forty years earlier when he said in his second inaugural:
"Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world: All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country."
Many accused President Kennedy of going too far with the promise of freedom when he declared to those trapped behind the communist Iron Curtain, "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner).
Others vilified Ronald Reagan when he said from the same podium several years later, "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
There will always be the cynical naysayers who would prefer to let the Adolph Hitlers, the Idi Amins, the Moammar Khadafis, or the Saddam Husseins to run rampant over their fellow man.
And then there are those heroic people, like the soldier we applauded in the Denver airport, who are willing to leave behind a wife and three admiring boys to go to places like Iraq or Afghanistan to free the oppressed and to defend the cause of liberty. They understand that freedom is never free and liberty must be defended by eternal vigilance -- on our shores, and when necessary, around the world.
And so I was proud to join in the applause for that soldier coming home from Iraq -- and for his courageous family -- 'cause "Ain't that America?"
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