DAVID ROSMAN: Reflection on life among military veterans, importance of Memorial Day

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 4:25 p.m. CDT; updated 5:19 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 25, 2012

COLUMBIA — I think I first became aware of the dogs of war watching the television news coverage of the war in Vietnam. Ask anyone who was born during or before the middle of last century, and you will get a better understanding of the world that the television brought into our homes for the first time.

I still believe the reporters sitting in rice paddies had more of an impact on our vision of war than did reporters embedded within armored divisions in the first days of Operation Desert Storm.

By the time I needed to sign up for the draft, the war and anti-war efforts were in full swing and Walter Cronkite’s  special report of the 1968 Tet Offensive was burned deep into my mind. The entire broadcast can be found on YouTube.  I guarantee that you will be moved.

Although I was not very political then, I did question why the United States was still involved. Even my father, a conservative and an Army Air Corps hero, did not understand why President Richard Nixon ordered more troops to Southeast Asia.

I did not join the service after high school or college. My draft number was too high, and by the time I graduated from St. Louis University, the war was all but over. However, I had friends who were drafted or volunteered — in one case both. When my friend Pete received his letter, he decided to join the Navy instead of becoming a foot soldier.  

I remember when I heard that a neighbor died during the North Vietnamese's Tet Offensive. I went to school with his younger brother. At 16 I was not really concerned with what was happening outside my small cloistered world, but his death changed that.

In my six decades, I have had many friends who served in the armed forces of the United States, Israel, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I know one gentleman who sat in a silo in central Russia as another sat in a silo in Wyoming at the height of the Cold War.

My own patriotic duty was spent at home, working with a U.S. representative, training volunteers for a presidential candidate’s campaign and writing here. I never felt anger towards those who took to arms for an American cause or as a sense of patriotic duty. Today, I tell students that military service is a great move to either transition into something greater or as a career. It just was not in my cards.

If you listen to my dad talk about his time as a fighter pilot in World War II, you will hear him talk about those who died but never about the deaths themselves. When he talks about receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross on a mission in Germany, it is just a medal. Even today, he dislikes hearing that someone is ill or has died, especially if the death is the relative of a friend and is somehow connected to active military service.

I am writing this on Monday, Memorial Day, and wonder if anyone really remembers why this is a holiday, rather than another day to be commercialized.

In 1868 Gen. John Logan ordered that flowers be placed on the graves of Union soldiers at cemeteries around the country on May 30. It took until the end of the World War I — the war to end all wars — for Northern and Southern states to acknowledge this day of honor. The selection of the last Monday of May was done by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971.

Now we have airshows and parades, and flags will be placed on the graves of soldiers long passed. But this is not really honoring those who answered the cry of “havoc! and let slip the dogs of war” ("Julius Caesar," Act 3, scene 1). Between aerobatics and catching candy on the parade route, we needed to take a few moments to “… highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” (Hay copy, Library of Congress).

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


James Krewson May 30, 2012 | 5:00 p.m.

As you liberals like to scream out that Iraq/Afghanistan is "Bush's War" then it is also logical to point out that the Vietnam War is Lyndon B. Johnson's War via the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Democrat Lyndon B Johnson was responsible for the deaths of thousands of young American men. It was his war, not Nixon's. It is amazing how that fact gets left out of Vietnam war discussions by the left.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum May 30, 2012 | 6:58 p.m.

Our first involvement in Vietnam took place under Truman, when he sent 35 advisers to work with the French, just 5 years after the end of the second World War. In 1954, after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Eisenhower and his administration upped the ante by sending advisers and military personnel to work directly with the Vietnamese and set up Diem's puppet government (South Vietnam).

Considering the facts:

Truman was over-cautious, being fresh off the World War.

Eisenhower touted the Domino Effect theory and set up a puppet regime.

Kennedy was HEAVILY pressured by conservative hawks who insisted that Democrats were too weak on national security (sound familiar?).

LBJ hated the war, calling it a "b_tch of a war", because it prevented him from fully implementing his 'Great Society' plan, which was his true focus.

Nixon escalated the war, carpet-bombed North Vietnam ("Op. Rolling Thunder"), and began an illegal war in neighboring Cambodia, which ultimately led to the genocide of over a million people.

I'd say you can hardly blame LBJ and the Gulf of Tonkin incident directly for the Vietnam War in the same way that you can for Bush, Cheney et al on our current Mid-East entanglements. Apples and Oranges, chum!

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 30, 2012 | 7:13 p.m.

Yeah James, apparently, this columnist and family could only be concerned with the action of R' R. Nixon, not those of L. Johnson, who trashed R' Presidential opponent B. Goldwater (who wanted expand the Vietnam war, win it and stop the U. N. determined "domino" effect of communism in SE Asia.), as a war monger! Goldwater later declined unnecessary public appearances for fear of being booed.

Johnson then after election did a "180" and expanded the war as per Goldwater, except for the winning part, with the Lie about a Vietnam naval attack on a U.S. ship in Gulf of Tonkin. Absolutely nothing of the sort happened. Johnson was later quoted at a private gathering, "for all I know our ship was shooting at sharks!"

The really sad part is that LBJ paid for this "war" as well as his Great Society and War on Poverty, with the first raid of our Social Security funds.

It is hard to sell a story when one has to omit half of the truth. Also, really sad is that liberals run in to this problem all the time.

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 30, 2012 | 8:37 p.m.

Louis - A little bit different version of our history, right? Again, it happens all the time with liberals.

I got mine by being in town when it happened, then verified with our miracle, internet. Where, pray tell, did you get yours? "Kennedy was HEAVILY pressured by conservative hawks who insisted that Democrats were too weak on national security (sound familiar?)."

"John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a fervent believer in containing communism. In his first speech on becoming president, Kennedy made it clear that he would continue the policy of the former President, Dwight Eisenhower, and support the government of Diem in South Vietnam. Kennedy also made it plain that he supported the ‘Domino Theory’ and he was convinced that if South Vietnam fell to communism, then other states in the region would as a consequence. This Kennedy was not prepared to contemplate."

"began an illegal war in neighboring Cambodia, which ultimately led to the genocide of over a million people." No war. the dictator,Pol Pot took over after we left. He killed Two million people!
Fred Barnes, a still working journalist, wrote for Readers
Digest, that 7 journalists noted that No news was coming out of Cambodia. Their investigations turned up the genocide and Senator John Danforth of MO, physically verified it. When apprised, prez J.E. Carter, as tho President of the U.S.A. doesn't know what is happening in Cambodia, sent his wife to confirm!

The only blame for Bush is for screwing around for the months, trying to get U.N. approval. Couldn't happen with the veto of now criminally indicted prez of France awaiting any vote.

"Apples and Oranges, chum!" You and yours are the ones mixing the fruit. Seems I can't change it, but many times, I've heard, Gold is only found after one continues to DIG and DIG!

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller May 30, 2012 | 8:40 p.m.

Good column Dave--but, I don't think I ever met a reporter in a rice paddy.

I do remmember Goldwater though. LBJ warned me during the Presidential 1964 Presidential campaign that if I voted for Goldwater, I would find myself in Vietnam. I voted for Goldwater and I found myself in Vietnam twice.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller May 30, 2012 | 9:06 p.m.

Mr Schneebaum,

I have three observations:

1. LBJ may haave thought the war a "b-tch" but, why do you suppose he lied about the Gulg of Tonkin Incident and used it to escalate the war?

2. President Nixon did NOT initiate Operation Rolling Thunder. Operation Rolling Thunder was the bombing operation in North Vietnam from 1965 through 1974...LBJ initiated Rolling Thunder and operation Steel Tiger, the Bombing campaign in Laos.

3. Nixon did not send extra troops to Vietnam--he merely escalated the bombing in order to gain the release of the POWS.

I could post a remark here Louis..but I have too much class.:)

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum May 30, 2012 | 10:48 p.m.

1) Is a query, rather than an observation.

2) I'm sorry, Op. Linebacker(s), technical error.

3) Peak troop strength occurred under Nixon's watch: 543,482, as of April 1969, he took office in January. Under your rules, it is reasonable to assign blame to a President in this way. Just look at how Obama destroyed the U.S. economy in his first 3 months. Also, Nixon continued the war for 6 fruitless, pointless years, and he is responsible for a genocide...

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 31, 2012 | 8:49 a.m.

"Also, Nixon continued the war for 6 fruitless, pointless years, and he is responsible for a genocide..."

Communists caused that genocide! Just as communists have done everywhere they've ever been allowed any power! That your leftist teaching will not allow this truth a place in your intelligence, does not make it false. Try to grow up and entertain some other ideas.

(Report Comment)
Rich C. May 31, 2012 | 8:55 a.m.

"Try to grow up and entertain some other ideas."

That's funny coming from you.

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 31, 2012 | 9:09 a.m.

I extend the same invitation to you!

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum May 31, 2012 | 10:56 a.m.

The Prince of Cambodia didn't want to play ball with Tricky Dick and didn't immediately bend over for U.S. imperialism, so he was deposed, which ultimately resulted in the communist takeover of Cambodia and genocide. Accept reality.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum May 31, 2012 | 11:00 a.m.

LOL. Frank, I'm no fan of pure communism. I just don't believe that a corporatist, (non)representative republic is really all that great. Perhaps the best form of government is a blend of various philosophies... I know it's going to be tough for you, but just try to embrace the idea of... ideas...

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 31, 2012 | 11:24 a.m.

A priceless vision of history! To assault our capitalist system and blame a leader, you place the entire blame on a U.N. (world wide) accepted and promoted series of conflicts designed for the specific purpose of stopping the spread of communism (U.S. imperialism, works better for you), then mention that a "communist takeover" occurred. No verbal blame for the communists, only a Republican President can be cited. And you make it sound so simple. This is your reality?

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 31, 2012 | 11:34 a.m.

"Perhaps the best form of government is a blend of various philosophies..."

O.K., LS, you accept these facts, "communism has caused the death of more people, thru murder and starvation than any economic system yet known to man." Capitalism has created more wealth for more people than any system yet known."

Where would you suggest we draw the lines of division?

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.