By Ron VandenBoom
The recent three day Memorial Day weekend was the first opportunity many of us had to drag out the barbecue, take the children to the park, or plan a short summer vacation to grandmother's house.
But to others the weekend is more than just a time for fun and games. It is also a reminder that a serious price was paid to insure that we can enjoy a trip to the park or a weekend barbecue.
It's a time to remember the thousands of Americans who paid the ultimate price in blood and personal sacrifice to insure our freedom, liberty, and right to question.
But as I listened to Montana's Attorney General, Joe Mazurek, give the keynote address at Havre's Memorial Day ceremony, I couldn't help but be impressed when he told the audience he had one relative that went to jail because he refused to serve in the military during WW II. He was a religious conscientious objector.
As I thought about the spirit of the occasion and how the man who wouldn't fight fit into the picture, it dawned on me that Memorial Day should also be a time to take stock in not just what we have lost because of war, or for that matter what we have gained, but also what we have learned.
I remember as a child sitting at the kitchen table as my father pointed to old black and white photographs in one of the family photo albums. My father had served in WW II on the island of Greenland a icy, desolate, area far from the better known theaters of operation that daily received coverage from major news organizations.
But it was easy to see, even in the eyes of a small child growing up, that my father was proud of the time he had served his country and believed his contribution to have been valuable. It was also easy to see that his years in the service had given him a tainted view of America's role in the world. It had caused him to develop an "America love it or leave it attitude" an unshakable belief that if the government said we needed to fight, it was our duty to blindly follow.
Having listened to my father's continued support of the Vietnam War, it should come as no surprise that I too found myself believing believing in the cause.
I enlisted in the Air Force in 1968.
Full of spit and vinegar and willing to do whatever was asked of me, I was finally shipped to Clark Air Base in the Philippine Islands and volunteered to go on temporary duty with Fifth Tactical Air Command to Vietnam.
Like my father before me, I never had to serve in a combat role. My time was spend mostly looking for radar blips on a radar scope or plotting aircraft on a plexiglass board.
But the time I spent in Vietnam did have its effect. While nothing compared to those who marched through rice patties or engaged in fire fights, it was impossible to serve in Vietnam and not see or smell the death.
It was equally impossible to not question what we were doing there or see the other faults in the system that ultimately led to the loss of the war.
There's a strong temptation today, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, to question whether 60,000 American lives was too great a price to pay in Vietnam.
Well if you only look at defeat as the measure of success, then i guess it was a waste.
But in another way those 60,000 lives served a most valuable purpose.
They have taught us a lesson a lesson we dare not forget and a lesson we much needed to learn. If you're not willing to make a total commitment don't go. If the goal isn't worth the cost stay home. If you're not willing to question you're not really free.
Memorial Day honors the lives of America's sons who have paid the price for freedom, but they've also paid the cost of our education a tuition we can never repay.
As we gather at future Memorial Day ceremonies, lets remember the price our veterans paid for freedom, but let us not forget the importance of the lessons their sacrifice has the ability to teach us.
Only by not heeding those lessons can America turn their sacrifice into a waste.