MAY 19, 1997

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Guest Column

My thoughts on Memorial Day: Why men and women rally around the flag

Memorial Day by Oscar Roloff
As I grow older and look at our country's situation, I come to the conclusion that no longer is war a grand and glorious undertaking. It is not a playground for the young at heart or an opportunity for one to choose whether or not to dash forward to protect our rights.
   Some shun war, hide out, go elsewhere. Solves nothing. Brings out hatred between the shirkers and the ones who go to war and suffer or die to protect the homefront and family.
   In my writings of wars and after taking part in them, I'd ask myself, "What were we fighting for?"
   Not having a ready answer, I waited till "my" wars ended and then deduced that the average wartime soldier does partially know why he dons the uniform. It's something greater than man himself. It's an intangible element of one struggling to achieve the greater greatness that is inside of him.
   But why? Is it to save his country and other free nations from tyranny, a true love of country? For some, probably not, because love of country is often obscured, not understood or appreciated. What then have veterans fought for?
   Hopefully, as each warrior strode forward to do battle, each effort (war) served to mark a turning point in the history of freedom. But the sad part is that the pain and cost of each conflict is great. There's no other way out. To prevent enslavement is a tough ordeal, fraught with terrible pain. During each war, men, women, and children have all suffered pain and death.
   One lamentable part of it is that overnight war changes a person in uniform. In the sudden call to colors, they rush forward with a feeling of pride, the stuff of which they are made. These soldiers aren't born to slay others. But soon, war changes some to the point where they lose all care for what is decent and right, because war is barbaric, and it brings out the worst in some.
   The need for survival is great and overriding. While fighting the enemy, some soldiers loot, burn, and slay the enemy's young. Unfortunately, when wars end, killers and cynics have sometimes been created. When the slaughter is over, some return home to resume their uniform-learned trade to prey on society and pollute the homefront.
   War should be the last thing to ever occur. All should join in the peace now at hand. But the end of war solves nothing permanently. It breeds discontent, fills our hospital beds with nightmares of the past wars, and millions are spent to take care of them. The Veterans Administration calls for tremendous aid and monies.
   For years, I've visited their hospitals, been a patient there, met countless veterans and written about their ever-increasing ills. You should spend a day there and see for yourself. It would sadden your heart and soul.
   Nonetheless, having left family, hearth, and friends, they did sally forth. It was no fun; there was no glory to achieve and no medals to seek. In the long run, the average G.I. knew that their homes and family would be gone if there was no country left to enjoy. At times it was close, and we could have lost the war and our freedom. The uniformed knew that if our country did perish, so would all they'd cherished.
   In conclusion, my overall thoughts of war and our need to protect our shores brings out this salient feature:
   The need for donning the uniform evolves around a deep historical purpose of preservation of ourselves, our families, and our country. Deep down, the true warrior who went to war knew that in times of peril, men must respond with diligent dispatch. Although the cost is always high, to not do so would be catastrophic and tantamount to our total demise.

Oscar Roloff is a contributing writer for Northwest News. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1938 to 1957. During World War II, one of the ships he was stationed on, the USS Tucker, was sunk. He later became a naval press officer.