Many moons ago, when I was a college student at the University of Texas, I was not a fan of Memorial Day. Beset with worries over the Vietnam War, I was proud that my fiancé (and future husband of 35 years) had achieved conscientious objector status and thus did not have to serve in what I considered to be a less-than-noble war.
While there’s a lot to be considered from all angles regarding our participation in Vietnam and I’m not going to dissect that now, what I can say is that my understanding of, and appreciation for our Veterans, living and deceased, has changed considerably over the last 50 years. Like everything in life, you don’t know what you don’t know – until you do.
Here’s what I know now.
We owe way more than I can put into words to our Veterans and, most of all, to those who died while serving. Looking back, I am embarrassed about my past naivete. It’s easy to look from the outside and to think (as I once did) that our modern global world is so intertwined that developing weapons, training forces and generally being ready to defend our country are tactical relics from the past that aren’t needed today.
But just take one look at what’s happening in the Ukraine. Where would the Ukrainians be now if: 1/ They hadn’t developed their own military expertise and 2/ The US and other NATO countries had not been able to send in equipment. It doesn’t take much to recognize that the Ukrainians’ hope is inextricably tied to the strong military resources of the free world. And well, we all know that freedom isn’t free.
Today I’m no longer married to that conscientious objector (he passed away) and I am in a relationship with a Vietnam veteran. It was eye-opening to visit the Memorials along the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. with him.
As a Veteran, my partner’s view of war and war-readiness has opened my eyes to the threats that we face every day and ignited my gratitude for those who have died in service to our country.
We were able to stand together by The Freedom Wall along the National Mall and reflect on the 4,048 gold stars. Each one represents one hundred American service personnel who died or remain missing in the World War II. In front of the wall lies the message: “Here we mark the price of freedom”.