Bob in WW II
A cold November breeze drifted over the family that had gathered on the depot platform to see Bob leave on the mixed mail-passenger train that served the community. Bob had finished boot camp and came home for a quick three-day leave before being sent to North Africa, where the Allied forces were in trouble.
For the 20th time, Dad looked up the track to see if the “Goose” was coming. A light appeared, the train rounded the curve and glided toward the platform. The train slowed and finally stopped. Dad was shaking hands with Bob, his sister was trying to hug him, his mom was telling him how she would save everything for his return. A tear ran down his cheek. More tears started running.
As he kissed his mom’s cheek, he whispered ”Mom, I’m not coming back.” He didn’t.
Bill in Vietnam
Bill was an only child and his parents loved him so much that they stuck together even though they would have separated had it not been for Bill. Neither of them dared risk losing custody if it came down to a divorce. Bill was his dad’s life.
The Vietnam War was raging. When his number came up, Bill answered his call to serve and was soon headed for Southeast Asia. Bill’s dad had contacted Sen. Quentin Burdick to ask the Army to hold Bill because he was ill. But the Army moved faster than Burdick and Bill got shipped over.
Later, the Burdick office called Bill’s dad to tell him that they missed Bill at San Francisco but the Army would catch him in Saigon. With indescribable pain, the dad had a short bitter answer: “Forget it. He’s dead.”
Bill did not come back.
Cody in Iraq
Cody was attending the University of Mary and had joined the National Guard primarily to help pay his way through school. His dreams were medicine or professional football. In February, I received a letter from Cody who had been in the Iraqi War long enough to realize that they were not equipped for this conflict. The excuse offered by the secretary of defense was that “you go to war with the army you’ve got.”
In his letter, Cody noted the inadequate equipment, extended assignments and canceled leaves. In fact, he gave up his leave so a married Guardsman could get home.
“I hope you don’t forget us,” he wrote.
Traveling in a heavy gravel truck reinforced with sandboxes, his team was on regular mission searching for roadside bombs. Near Ballad, Iraq, they hit one. The truck and its inhabitants were strewn across the highway.
Cody did not come back.
Blowing taps, marching with the colors, graveside meditations and firing salutes are not a fair exchange for the lives of these men and women cheated out of a life cut short by the failure of diplomacy.
In this Memorial period, we honored those who didn’t come back. At the same time, we hear saber-rattling in North Korea and Iran, either one of which could break into accidental war. There is still time. Today, we have our destiny in our hands. We could engage in full press negotiation that could head off the danger of hostilities. Or we could continue to send guns rather than peace negotiators.
Scripture tells us that human lives are of great value. History and generals tell us that war is hell. It is time we listened more carefully.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former professor at UND and North Dakota lieutenant governor. His work appears weekly in the Herald.