By Gary Wamsley
I was very happy to see the honor given to Justin Bauer this week. It is nice to see the change in attitude since Vietnam. Our experiences then were quite different.
I alone accompanied my friend Al’s body to Portland, Ore. He had come into Travis AFB and was transferred without ceremony to the San Francisco airport for our flight to Portland. There were no special acknowledgements by the plane’s crew and no welcoming committee when we arrived.
I was traveling in uniform and went down to the airport ramp to monitor the unloading of Al’s casket into the hearse. The next time I saw him was at the Willamette National Cemetery with Mount Hood looming in the background. It was a simple military funeral with an Air Force Chaplin, a few family members and two of us from his pilot training class.
All too soon it was over and we all went our separate ways. I have never seen Penny or the children again except in the photos we have at home. I don’t believe the local news even acknowledged our existence; they certainly did not attend the funeral.
The soldiers, sailors and airmen who served and died in Vietnam were no different than today’s warriors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they were treated differently. Thankfully, the attitude of the nation has changed and our GIs are getting the recognition they deserve.
I am not quite sure what has caused the change. It seemed in the 1960s and ’70s that people blamed us for the war, an unpopular politicized war. Perhaps there was a naivety about how wars come about, a lack of understanding that the men and women of the military are merely the tools of national policy, not the drafters of it.
I will admit to my own lack of understanding of the process; a process that became clear when I worked on the Joint Staff. There I learned that when the President of the United States has a problem or a goal, he asks for solutions from the three prime action groups in the government; the State Department for a diplomatic solution, the Department of Defense for a military solution and the Central Intelligence Agency for a covert solution. After listening to all the presentations, the President decides which road will be taken.
Once that decision is made, the agency personnel become actors on the stage, trying to do their best for their president and their country. Some make the ultimate sacrifice.
Unfortunately, there is still a small group of people who seem to blame the soldier for the decisions of the politicians. I cannot fathom how these folks can justify to themselves the protest demonstrations at the sites of military funerals. They didn’t even do that in my era. The word I see most often in describing them is “despicable,” I couldn’t agree more.
Continue to support our troops, and while your are at it, you might say “Thank You” to one of those aging Vietnam veterans. I’m sure that he or she will appreciate the thought.
See you around Town.