The ‘Why?’ of war
EDWARDS, Colorado – Veterans Day ceremonies open with the flag, the symbol of American freedom, so we remember what the fight was for.
They close with Taps, so we remember what it costs.
Local veterans have been leading Veterans Day ceremonies all week in schools up and down the valley. Thursday afternoon found them in front of hundreds of St. Clare and Vail Academy students, talking to kids and taking questions.
The most common is also the toughest: “Why?”
Why do they do this, sign up to fight and possibly die for their country? the kids asked.
“Love,” said Lt. Col. Bernie Krueger, USMC retired, as his voice cracked slightly. “Love for God, love for family, love for your friends and love for your country.”
The U.S. is home to 24 million military veterans.
“Veterans Day is the day we recognize the greatest number of Americans,” Krueger said. “Take a minute and think about the many veterans who have served our country in the military.”
It’s tougher on the families left behind than on the service people, Krueger said. When he was about to ship out again, his children peppered him with “Why?”
“Dad, why do you have to go fly helicopters off aircraft carriers? Why do you have to go to Iraq?”
“Why did you want to be in the military?” asked one St. Clare student.
Pat Hammon joined as the Vietnam War was getting a full head of steam. She’s the oldest kid in her family and the military would help her pay for nursing school. With the Army Reserves she earned the princely sum of $42.90 a month. She was serving in San Francisco taking care of people coming back from Vietnam. She would soon be helping run a hospital in Saigon.
“How did you feel before and after the war?” asked another St. Clare student, standing tall to reach the microphone and facing the veterans on stage.
Herb Rubinstein took that one. He and Alan Arons were two World War II veterans on hand. Rubinstein fought three years through Europe with the 89th Infantry. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and liberated a Nazi concentration camp.
On Dec. 7, 1941, they were home in Brooklyn listening to Lowell Thomas on the radio when they heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
“They knocked out almost 80 percent of our Navy,” Rubinstein told the spellbound students.
He joined the ROTC after Pearl Harbor because it was his duty to be part of his country’s salvation, he said.
“We were confronted by terrific odds. On one side they had the Japanese. On the other side the armies of Europe,” Rubinstein said. “We joined some of the British and French troops and we won World War II.”
Dan Smith was a sergeant in Vietnam where he earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. He smiled when asked whether they used Skype, email or texting to talk to their families.
“Communication with your family was running up to a helicopter with the outgoing mail and picking up the incoming mail. There was a two and a half week delay,” Smith said as the amazed kids quietly gasped.
John Perkins was in the infantry in Vietnam. They were in the jungle for 27 days at a stretch. A young man asked what foods he missed when he was at war, he recalled C-rations, food in cans, and that some of those cans were dated from the 1940s.
“When they came in 1970, a lot of those cases had 1940s dates on it,” Perkins said.
They were awful, except for the canned peaches that were coveted all over Vietnam. “Very tradable,” Perkins said.
Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day and the end of World War I. The armistice was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to end The Great War, “The War to End All Wars,” before we started numbering them.
Given the choice between war and peace, all the veterans look perplexed at the question. They prefer peace.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.