Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

They also serve who only stand and wait - John Milton

I never considered myself as coming from a military family, yet when I count the number of men in my family with military background, it surprises me. My paternal grandfather was in the Air Corps in the Aleutians during WW II. My adoptive father was a radio operator on landing craft during WW II. I an uncle on my mother's side was a submariner during the Vietnam era and after. One cousin spent some time in the Air Force, and another in the navy. Another uncle by marriage was also submariner. Another uncle was in the army in the same time period. My mother's husband was amongst the first troops sent to Korea. My wife's grandfather was a navigator on bombers during WW II. His brother was a civilian captured by the Japanese on Wake Island. My father-in-law served in Vietnam. My brother spent nine years in the Army from the late 70s through the mid-eighties.

The sacrifices and service of the WW II and Vietnam ere veterans are now widely and justly recognized and celebrated. The Korean veterans are less well remembered, but when they are, their sacrifices are recognized. The veterans of today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are justly honored. Today I want to talk about a largely forgotten group of veterans, those who served during the last years of the Cold War.

The period from the end of the Vietnam war to Desert Storm is seen as largely on of watchful peace. There were a few small wars in Grenada and Panama, but little seems to have happened. It was a period with a completely voluntary, professional standing military, something that had seldom been seen in American History before. At the beginning of the period the military was demoralized, underfunded and poorly regarded. At the end of the period, it was the force that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait in a few hours, when many of the "experts" were predicting a quagmire. In that period hundreds of thousands of people served, quietly. Many enlisted as a means of earning money for college. Many got to spend a few years in Europe or other exotic locales and have a relatively safe adventure. Because of that it easy to undervalue their service. There were real risks. The troops in Europe essentially a sacrificial force, they were to hold the line until the rest of the military could be brought to bear. If Soviet tanks had ever invaded the West, some of these men and women would have had lifespans measured in minutes. We may look back at the "little wars" such as Grenada and Panama as side shows, but service men bled and died in each of those operations. Even "guard" duty could have real risks. I once worked with man who saw American men hacked to death with axes by North Korean troops. The Cold War never really became "hot", thank God. It didn't because hundreds of thousands of American troops waited for the war that never came. It didn't come because they waited, and for that we should be grateful.

1 comment:

Mike Looney said...

Just to add to your list. Your father served 6 years in the USAR and you paternal uncle was "on the beach" during the Cuba Missile crises.