Over the holidays, remember those still on the battlefield

first_img There will be no moratorium on killing from a ruthless adversary. The birth of the baby Jesus who brought forth a message of hope for peace on earth and good will means little to suicide bombers and irrational insurgents who have no regard for human life. Unlike in my day, modern telecommunications technology does provide some modest relief to soldiers in the field. Some troops will get to talk to their loved ones at home by phone, or exchange snapshots by e-mail. This one glimmer of hope and comfort lessens the hurt of being away from friends and family at this most important time of the year. There are other glimmers of hope, too. Military commanders will order mess hall personnel to ensure that all troops in the field receive a hot Christmas dinner where possible. And military chaplains will conduct special services to sustain the soldiers’ need for solace and comfort that helps prepare them to go forth on patrols armed with the confidence that faith brings to the true believer. It’s not hard to empathize with the troops’ feelings of loneliness and homesickness. Veterans know what it’s like because we went through the same thing years ago in Europe, the Pacific islands, Korea, Vietnam and all the other skirmishes that have kept us away at Christmas. Yet we must realize how very young – late teens or early twenties – most of our troops are. Just a few years ago, these same warriors were wishing for a two-wheel bike or Barbie and Ken dolls from Santa Claus. Dressed in their combat uniforms, complete with boots and steel helmets, they look older, more mature than they really are. They will flinch when they hear a shell burst or the sound of rocket fired, but they fight this natural fear because of their training and experience, aided by the youthful sense of immortality. This year marks the fourth that American fighting forces have waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq against terrorists and a shadowy, militant insurgency. And in this, our traditional holiday season, the fighting will continue, making the “most wonderful time of the year” the hardest for the men and women who serve, a time that can overwhelm the emotions of even the most experienced soldier. Such is the life in the military. I spent Christmas in a war zone in 1944, as a member of an Army engineer battalion during the Battle of the Bulge. For members of the armed forces who serve stateside, there is always the hope for Christmas leave to be spent with loved ones as they celebrate the holidays. Those who must stay at their duty stations will take comfort in the fact that though they are not home, they are still out of the range of an enemy bullet. Army mess halls will go all out to prepare Christmas feasts with roasted turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings. To raise troop morale, Christmas trees and decorations will transform even the drabbest military installations into colorful wonderlands. For military personnel serving in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the holiday season adds additional stress and tension to young soldiers who are serving thousands of miles from their homes. Some of our sons and daughters run the risk of being wounded and killed during this peaceful season by an enemy that will use the holidays as an opportunity to try to catch our troops unaware. Soldiers they are, and good ones, but really kids at heart, yearning to do what young men and women should be doing. The war in Iraq has wrenched the U.S. into two parts as more Americans feel that we should work harder toward a quick and graceful exit. But though support for the war may be waning, support for the troops – our sons and daughters – remains strong. The soldier’s oath is a simple one: to obey the commander-in-chief, our president. The soldier does not vote on policy – in Iraq, the voting booths are reserved for Iraqis. U.S. troops simply stay loyal to their mission, seeing it through, sometimes getting wounded or killed in the name of duty. In December of 1944, when my battalion was stuck in an abandoned Belgian brewery on Christmas Eve, there was no turkey dinner, but our mess sergeant mustered up some warm “C” rations. We washed them down with “requisitioned” Moselle wine. And under the glow of drinks, each man remembered another time and another place when we spent Christmas with our families at home. Those recollections brought a lump to the throat and a tear to they eye of even the most hardened GI. But when the morning of Christmas 1944 dawned, we were sent on our way to our next assignment. And now, this year as I spend Christmas with my family, deep in my heart I wish another generation of soldiers good luck and godspeed as they fight the twin demons of holiday homesickness and the enemy. May you persevere and triumph. This holiday season, pray that our troops – the pride of our nation serving in remote lands – will be safe from the terrorists’ wrath. As you sip your eggnog in from of the warm fireplace surrounded by family and friends, think about how it feels to be 18 or 19 years old on patrol in the rough streets of an Iraqi city on Christmas eve. Remember those who fight for our right to live as we choose. — Steve Vlasich is a World War II veteran and a retired manager for Sears. He lives in West Hills and writes occasionally for the Daily News.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more

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