Monday, November 14, 2016

The Veteran's Day Dinner

I didn't expect much. A dry chicken breast, a few musical numbers, a pledge to motivate patriotism.

But dinner was good! Purple potatoes, salad and green beans.

The night's host began the evening program by introducing the men and women who had served in our country's military. Some came in uniform, but most of the servicemen and women were dressed in regular clothes. As the introductions deepened, I realized I was sitting among the elite of our country who had served in Vietnam, South Korea, Afghanistan and even WWII. Yes. When the man's name was called, he stood with the help of the back of his chair, and when the emcee mentioned he was one of the 13 survivors of the USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, we were all quite astounded.

The man's lips quivered. His sun-glass shaded eyes had to be filling with tears. We watched him close, most of us probably doing the math. Was he 93? 94? Or did he lie about his age and join the navy at age 16? We witnessed in his trembling, his pride, his sadness, his privilege of having been there on such an historic occasion.

When the evening ended, my husband thanked the marine sergeant (who was sitting at the table next to us), for serving our country. He spoke with a heavy southern accent and mentioned he'd been serving for the past 17 years, part of that in Afghanistan. I was so curious to know how he felt.

"Well Ma'am, I don't think about what it feels like or why I'm there. I follow the orders of our Commander in Chief and while I'm there I do my job which is to protect the marines under my command. We were in Afghanistan to protect American interests."

American interests, I wondered. He picked up on my quizzical expression. I was trying to figure out what American interests might be in Afghanistan: oil?

"Ma'am, American interests include human lives. When a dictator or corrupt regime murders their own people, we're there to save lives. Human capital."

I was humbled by his dedication, his unwavering loyalty, and the pledge he had taken to protect lives.

In the past few months as my students and I have studied America's involvement in Korea, Vietnam, and in arming the Afghans in their fight against the Soviet Union, we have asked over and over again: Did America do the right thing? Was it worth fighting communism?

We never have a definitive answer. Some students will argue, "Yes, all life is sacred and all peoples' freedom must be protected. But then we look at the cost, the supposed 6 trillion spent on the Middle East over the past years, the debt we accumulated in the Vietnam war, that the cost of a B52 bomber was 2.5 billion dollars--each. But then, Soviet aggression was blatant and fast moving. If we hadn't interfered would we even have a country to defend today?

And to think my main concern was a dry chicken breast, a few musical numbers and getting back to my comfortable home. I've been changed by a night among Veterans.