When I was in high school in the 1960s, many of my male classmates were drafted or volunteered and went to Vietnam. Some of them did not return. One was literally the boy next door. He lived with his ancient grandmother because his parents were both dead. His name was Ronnie. He was tall, handsome, blonde and smart. He was a senior when I was a freshman and as kind to an awkward young girl as he could be. He came home in his Marine dress uniform before being deployed to Vietnam. I was in love.
My brother also served during that war. He came home, but Ronnie did not. His grandmother did not live long after his death. Both were victims of that war.
Many remember this time in simplistic terms: one was either patriotic and for the war or some kind of wide-eyed radical who spit on servicemen when they returned. I was there and was neither. I wished the war had not happened, that we had never gotten involved in it. I wished more people had refused to go to war but I also respected the decisions of those who did. And I mourned the deaths of each of my friends because I felt that though their deaths were a waste, they were also honorable men who acted out of their best nature.
I am part of an organization that helps veterans and transitioning service members. Last week we held our annual symposium and listening to our speakers I again reflected on the cost of war: on individuals and on our society. War is not intrinsically patriotic. I still believe we should question authority, investigate non-military options, and enter conflicts with great consideration. It is not patriotism to support error. It is patriotic to do what is right, popular or not. And what is right is to take care of all our service members when they return. Because regardless of whether the conflict is right or wrong, their sacrifice is real and noble.
Supporting veterans means more than sporting a bumper sticker; it means hiring vets, housing vets, getting them health care and more. And on Memorial Day, as we remember our war dead, let us honor them by considering carefully how freely we spill the blood of their brothers..