This Memorial Day weekend finds America in the 11th year of a war begun by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan lengthens the list of fallen fighters the holiday was established to honor, and it’s fitting to pay respects to those who continue to struggle, either on the battlefield or in the economic arena back home.
Nations have always had to reconcile their willingness to put young people in harm’s way with the moral imperative to treat them honorably afterwards. Support for the troops has evolved over the decades with the changing nature of combat and the shifting profile of military forces.
World War II mobilized an entire population. Recruits from all walks of life headed for the theaters of Europe and the Pacific and the “home front” stood behind them, because civilians generally believed the cause was just and besides, America’s soldiers, sailors and fliers were family.
Subsequent wars in Korea and Vietnam drew less public support. Still, the draft conscripted men from a fairly broad base. Some may have pulled strings to avoid Uncle Sam’s call but most served whether they really wanted to or not. Military service today is voluntary and less emblematic of American society as a whole.
After Sept. 11, the nation experienced a moment of unity reminiscent of the spirit engendered by Pearl Harbor. There was broad consensus that we had to strike back at the radicals who’d plotted murderous attacks on our soil. Standing amid the wreckage of the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush promised they’d soon be hearing from all of us – to the overwhelming approval of Congress and the American people.
The terror threat lingers a decade later even though Osama bin Laden, the Sept. 11 ringleader, is dead. More than 1,500 Americans have lost their lives on the Afghanistan battleground. Many others have suffered wounds or post-traumatic stress disorder.
President Obama is committed to winding down the war and starting to bring the troops home. The risk now is that the American public, so supportive of the mission at its outset, may be less conscious of the plight of combatants whose personal struggle goes on even when it’s over over there.
USA Cares, a nonprofit organization that was established at the time the war on terror began, works to ensure we remember. As Americans, we have a duty not just to cheer the troops when they march off to war but also to ensure military families get the caring attention they deserve during and after the conflict.
The charity based in Radcliff, Ky. – near Fort Knox – seeks support from patriots who understand the sacrifices made by warriors’ families and want to make a meaningful contribution. Executive Director Bill Nelson says even though the number of military charities declined last year, USA Cares is redoubling its efforts. When soldiers return to find their homes in danger of foreclosure, his organization offers grants to help them make mortgage payments, funded by gifts from individual and corporate donors. There’s also help for veterans hunting jobs or recovering from wounds. Nelson says a typical week has USA Cares distributing up to $20,000 in financial aid, bypassing government red tape to render assistance at the time of need. Learn more at www.usacares.org.
Few of us hesitated to “support our troops” 10 years ago when Old Glory flew bravely from home flagpoles and car antennas all across the homeland. This Memorial Day, don’t forget that our continued support needs to be more than symbolic.