By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette — On a lush Western New York day last summer, with temperature about 85 out (hard to feel in an air-conditioned car), I got back to the Thruway. And I noticed a flag at half mast as I approached this particular booth. I asked if it was some notable who had died, but learned it was “a New York state soldier.”
And I cried beneath my sunglasses, thinking of other American soldiers who have suffered (like that poor young person) in heat that certainly in Iraq or parts of Afghanistan must far exceed anything I could remotely feel that day.
I thought of Americans who had given lives aplenty in earlier hell holes like Guadalcanal, countering a Japanese Empire that few — whether Burmese, Filipinos, or residents of the Dutch East Indies — found easy to bear, to put it mildly.
Then Korea, and on a warm summer day in Western New York, who can feel what Marines endured, swarmed by invading Chinese and cut down in droves during the winter of ‘50-’51 amidst whirling snow and temperatures hitting 20 below? You want to take all this American largesse lightly, or subscribe to the now musty views of late ‘60s “revisionists,” who cynicized such efforts, so costly in lives? And which truly mattered? Where, in fact, would South Koreans of the past 60 years rather have lived — there, or in the cruel, abominable North?
And then Vietnam, and I’m trying not to say the obvious in a few lines, or step on the toes of the many commemorative articles that appear these days. But it’s all been major – and sufferings endured there, too, hugely surpass one’s few paltry words. Imagine fighting in ‘Nam of 1968, when the enemy had at its disposal a couple dozen different Soviet or Chinese-made mines — each step, each rustle of bushes an awful crap shoot. I can’t imagine that existence, but can greatly respect it.
A while back I was corralled into visiting the Niagara Falls Air Base for a show, and went into a plane and met a couple military guys — one, a young man who’d felt out of place on his return from war service to college in the South; the other, middle-aged, seasoned, enlightened, and here was this same kind of plane that would go to Iraq loaded with equipment. And I was filled with admiration, regretting my reluctance to give up who knows what that day: a golf tourney on TV? A ball game?
Sometimes I go and look at war memorials, such as in Tonawanda or the large one in Lockport, and try to feel the reality behind all those names. You see the care people who feel such losses have taken – the flags, flowers, etc. You see it in those who actively support the Wounded Warriors organization and others like it, and of course the Niagara Falls “Wall of Honor,” part of the Veterans Memorial.
We all meet war vets who bring home such realities, including the old, still guilty even at advanced ages about comrades they long ago left behind. I was walking along the Niagara River last summer and chatted with one who said he was 90.
He had attended Canisius College, and went over to help liberate Europe during WWII in an infantry division, where fast friendships he made kept getting abruptly snapped. After so many years – a lifetime! — he still took these human losses seriously and sadly. He could savor the Prussian blue Niagara (that day) — a sweet blinding sun, people whipping by on bikes or roller blades; but simultaneously, couldn’t forget his less fortunate confreres who had perished so young, just because they’d stood up the wrong way, moved inches this way or that ...
And then there’s the present of sad news items concerning U.S. troops countering the disgusting Taliban, at least partly out of altruism; and yet intermittently, killed by cowardly IEDs or worse, by the very security people they’d arduously trained! I dislike myself for forgetting such items the next day, because really, these fallen heroes trying to create a better, slightly safer world shouldn’t be forgotten.B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.