Sons are not supposed to bear the sins of their fathers, but that's not been my experience. Parents' sins almost can't help but settle on the children.
My father fought in Vietnam, then he went again, and he might have gone back had he not been gravely injured and sent home to heal from purple scars that looked like snakes lashed across his back and chest.
He's been dead — cancer, at age 56 — for 16 years, and the family still wonders if the Army made or broke him. His beloved sister says it broke him. I don't know; I only ever knew him as a soldier.
Military dads are a different breed — military moms, as well. As their children, you want to emulate them, and you are proud, even if you resent their time Over There.
In 1961, when Dave Ionno's father went Over There to the not-so-secret war in Laos, he came back intent that none of his five children follow him into the delta. But at 18, Dave the Ever Raving knew best, so he went to serve as a combat medic in Vietnam. These days, his father is a retired Army colonel who daily searches The New York Times for news of this most recent war, the one we hear mentioned in campaign promises.
And Dave? He raves.
These are the times that try our souls, wrote patriot Thomas Paine in 1776. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot, Paine wrote, will fade and those who stand strong deserve the love and gratitude of the rest of us. Whatever you feel about the war — and I've hated it from the beginning — Thomas Paine was right: The fallen deserve our respect; the wounded and returning deserve our help.
(They deserve a quick end to the war as well.)
Ionno and others have proposed an anti-war resolution for Hartford, where once a month there will be a reading of the number of casualties, along with an announcement of what the war is costing the city. Using tax and population data, the nonpartisan National Priorities Project said Hartford's cost, as of fiscal year 2007, was $183 million.
Not all of war's costs come with a dollar amount. Ionno recently started attending a group dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Other, younger vets are showing up wound tight. Ionno believed he had "gotten over it." He's a senior librarian assistant in Hartford, married to the same woman for nearly 38 years. They raised four daughters; the youngest is a junior at Hartford High.
Ionno serves on the school's parent-teacher-student organization, in Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He's built a life, in other words. But PTSD — like those snakes on my father's body — has a way of rearing its ugly head.
Our newest vets are going to need help, and that's a scary thought when we aren't serving our vets from past wars. Starting Thursday, South Park Inn, a Hartford homeless shelter, begins offering weekly stand-downs, where homeless veterans can come get connected to support services. Not long ago, a World War II veteran wandered into the shelter. His whole life, says Brian Baker, the shelter's assistant director, was stuffed into a plastic bag.
War doesn't go away, and that's not some lame-ass lily-liberal talking. That's the daughter of a decorated Vietnam combat vet. My dad was tough. The war was tougher.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain says the country should be willing to devote as long as it takes in Iraq — 100 years, if need be. That might include time spent in an advisory — not combat — role, he says; still, I expected more from battle-hardened McCain.
This is no time for sunshine patriots. We have the candidates' attention as we will never have it again. Now is the time to speak up, and speak out.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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