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Monday, November 12, 2007

We all share the responsibilities that veterans do

Over the years, I've come to think of Veterans Day as not so much a day to honor veterans, but as a day to honor the idea of duty and service.

I belong to a generation that has turned out to be unusual, in that my fighting days came and went during peacetime.

The last draft lottery for Vietnam was in 1973, my freshman year of high school.

By the time operation Desert Storm was launched in January of 1991, I was well into my 30s and it had been nearly two decades since the United States had engaged in military action on that scale.

But despite never wearing the uniform, my life has been intertwined with those who have.

What I've learned is that for soldiers and non-soldiers alike, all bear the same responsibilities to our country and our freedom.

As Donna Lenz Wright found out in this week's cover story, sometimes people serve without carrying a weapon. Elsie Hoffman left her rural hometown in the spring of 1942 to help with the cause and experience adventure. Along the way, she found the man who would become her husband.

Each war brings its own demands on sacrifice.

When I first started working for The Week, I interviewed and photographed each of Walworth County's last remaining World War I veterans.

There were eight of them, now all gone, and one of them had actually served in both World Wars. Many saw fierce fighting but in their later years had no great desire to rekindle those memories.

Unlike those who fought face to face, my father was a sailor in World War II, suffering an injury that laid him up for months. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier and was responsible for securing the planes to the deck upon their return. One day, a chain used to secure the planes swung loose and struck him in the eye.

I don't remember him ever talking about it as a war injury. Instead, he saw it as an unfortunate accident that kept him from working side by side with his buddies.

As an adult, I've known many who have served in wartime. Abe Goldsmith, a regular contributor to The Week, served in Korea. (His review of David Halberstam's book on the Korean War is on the Entertainment page.)

And Dale Reich, an instructor at Gateway Technical College in Elkhorn who wrote for The Week for many years, has written several books on his experiences in Vietnam.

Of more recent conflicts, one of my son's coaches and Boy Scout leaders, Bob Wright, served as a Marine in the chaotic attempt to bring order to Somalia.

Thanks to the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, I meet new soldiers regularly.

What they all have in common is that they've served their country at great risk to themselves.

Never having served, I can't pretend to know what that's like. But I do know that those soldiers shouldn't be alone in the responsibilities to the future of the principles our country stands for.

Each of us can fulfill those responsibilities in many ways.

Here at The Week, we try to tell the stories of those who have gone into battle and why they do it.

But there are other things each of us can do. We can vote. We can help out the family of a soldier.

We can learn from our nation's history. We can support our leaders accountable, and hold them accountable too.

So on this Veterans Day, as we honor the sacrifices they made, remember that the future of our nation is not only in their hands, but in our own.

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