The casualties of war go far beyond the battlefields

Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)

The casualties of war go far beyond the battlefields

With the second anniversary this month of the United States invasion of Iraq, many peacemakers will participate in vigils or memorials for the dead. An interfaith group in Salt Lake City will read the names of the war dead. 

    The list includes both American and other soldiers who have fallen as well as the names of as many Iraqis as can be found. When ABC News “Nightline” devoted an entire program to reading names of war dead, some TV affiliates chose not to air the broadcast. They claimed it was too political. 

    Honoring the victims of war is something our country has etched in stone. War and veterans’ memorials can be found in nearly every city, town and hamlet across this nation. It is from these hometowns that this country’s young men — and now women – have left for foreign battlefields. 

  Seeing all those names on the stark, black stone wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., was a moving experience for me. It is an emotional experience to touch the name of a loved one or friend on that wall. 

    The World War II Memorial opened just last year has a crescent wall on its west side with thousands of gold stars. Each star represents 100 fallen. There is no room for all the names. The words carved in the stone below denote “the price of freedom.” 

    The price is much higher. The cost is greater than we first see. The names of those casualties of war far outnumber those officially listed as killed in action. 

    The Wasatch Mountains of Utah are about as far away from a war zone as you can get. In the waning days of last summer, when the wildflowers were not yet gone, a casual hike turned into a horrible reminder. 

    Seeing a business acquaintance along the trail was a surprise. Usually, I see him behind a customer service   counter. But I recognized him with his backpack passing on the trail. 

    He reminded me of his name. I asked how he was doing. Not so well, he said. 

    The trail we were on was a place he used to bring his favorite nephew. The uncle had come up to the tall pines, the stands of aspen and the unrestricted views of the peaks to remember. And to try to forget. 

    His nephew had enlisted in the Army. He and a buddy from a suburban Midwestern city had been to Iraq and back. 

    “We’re not getting the whole story,” the uncle told me as we stood in a sun-drenched meadow. His nephew had recounted the horrors of war to his uncle. He had told his uncle that they shot at anything that moved. He had bared his tormented soul to someone he trusted, someone who loved him, someone who had brought him to these mountains for peace and solitude and new experiences.

    Their names will not appear on any war memorial of those killed in the Iraq war. But their lives were cut short by the horrors of war just as though they had been targeted by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. 

    One summer night, the two Iraq war veterans drank too much. The buddy had a new sports car, a “welcome home” gift from his father. These two young veterans sped down a highway careening and crashing the new sports car. Both died. 

    Their names were not seen on any national TV news program listing those who gave the ultimate price. Their names will not appear on any war memorial of those killed in the Iraq war. But their lives were cut short by the horrors of war just as though they had been targeted by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. 

    This is not likely an isolated case. How many returning soldiers become casualties, the number of beaten and abused military   spouses, may never be completely known. The returning veterans from Vietnam who have dealt with the horrors of their war through drug and alcohol abuse took years to quantify and the numbers are likely “best guesses.” 

    Vietnam so damaged this country’s families and fabric that we discovered in the 2004 presidential election it still is an unhealed national wound. Is there any correlation between the end of World War II and its returned victims of war’s horror and the reorganization of Alcoholics Anonymous in the following decade? How many of the returning WWII vets were medicating themselves to dull the memories that were too unbearable? 

    The casualties of war go far beyond the battlefields. They are in the homes and coffee shops, the support groups and the cemeteries of those cities, towns and hamlets that continue to send their youngest to serve in the nation’s wars. 

    It is a cycle   that somehow needs to be stopped. Reading the names of those we know about in this latest war will bring to my mind the unnamed thousands of veterans who came home scarred and those others who are just as much part of the war dead and wounded but who never set foot “in country.”

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