Friday, November 8, 2013
"Fighting for Pie"
During my 22-year Air Force career I served two tours in Korea and three one-year tours in Vietnam. While in Vietnam I don't ever remember any reporter coming up to me to ask why I'm fighting there. Of course, with the media explosion of today we often see troops interviewed in the Middle East and are almost always asked if they believe the war is justified. Sometimes a troop will echo a justification for the war that he heard from a military or political leader. Often though, there is a hesitation before he or she just generally answers that they're "fighting for their country".
That's all it really is, or was, for all us who served in a war zone; serving our country. All of us in the military are taught from the first day of basic training that our duty is to serve, to follow the orders of our commander in chief and to keep our political opinions to ourselves.
The key difference between troops fighting today is that they are part of an "all-volunteer" force. The War in Vietnam was fought with a small core of volunteers with the majority being involuntarily drafted or compelled to enlist in order to have choice of career field or branch of service. And so, for the Vietnam veteran, it was particularly hurtful when, upon our return from war service, we were frequently called "baby killers" by a large number of Americans who were against the war and who were able to find, in the absence of a remote government official, a soldiers face to spit on or revile.
And yet, soldiers in all wars have fought for their country, simply because they love their country! How many times do you see or hear a soldier say "I just want to get home to my wife and kids". Asking a soldier about a war's justification...or requiring a political opinion about the war is often useless. To most of us it was always about love of home and country.
Most of us are familiar with the most decorated war veteran of WWI, Sergeant Alvin York. Raised a pacifist as part of his religion, he was initially reluctant to fight in the war. After finally on the battlefield York's anger at seeing his buddies die around him compelled him to his amazing heroics. York's motivation was not driven by political rants but by the very personal feelings that make us human.
John Hersey, the famous war correspondent, was travelling with a group of marines on some god-forsaken pacific island during World War II. Sitting around a camp fire with a group of marines one night, after a particularly bloody battle, Hersey suddenly threw out the question to the group, "What are you guys fighting for, here today, on this island?" After an extended time, one marine finally spoke up and said "I'd give anything for a piece of mom's apple pie". Several other marines joined in, commenting on what they missed about home. No political slogans, no gung-ho platitudes; just a thought on "home".
Fighting for Pie.
I watch the news and I see our troops coming home, tromping through airports or boarding airplanes or buses, all homeward bound. I'm heartened to see the loving welcome given to our troops today. But, try as I might, I can't help but remember the hurt when we came home from Vietnam when Americans spit in our face and called us baby killers; a time when America broke our hearts.
After all, we were all just "fighting for pie".