I grew up in peacetime, not wartime. I believed America won every war it ever fought. I remember my mom talking about boys she knew who got sent to Vietnam. I remember thinking we won the Vietnam War, until 10th grade, when Mr. Deaner stood in front of my U.S. History class, flecks of spittle gathering in the corners of his mouth, repeating: "Nixon declared that we would 'Withdraw with Honor.' We withdrew with honor. We withdrew with honor." He was wrong.
And we lost.
In that same time period, I remember listening to Billy Joel's song, "We'll All Go Down Together" and getting weepy, thinking that if the situation in Bosnia got any worse, that Congress would have to bring back the draft, and maybe our male friends, Craig and Jason and Nick, (you rarely saw them individually in those days, so you said their names all in one breath) might have to go fight. I was wrong.
There's no oil in Bosnia.
I didn't even know what a Gold Star Mom was until I saw the movie "The Majestic" in 2003. That's not even a movie I would ordinarily go out of my way to see. I was in a Red Roof Inn in Pooling, GE with a freaked out dog and a furious cat with two more long days of driving ahead of me. (You'll watch whatever's on, you know?)
For the past 10 days, my co-worker Joe and I have collaborated on half a dozen stories about a 20-year-old soldier who was shot in Iraq two weeks ago. Last night, the hearse from Dover Air Force Base paused in front of his family's home for a moment, the gold star banner hanging in the window. Then the procession turned the corner and ended its journey at a funeral parlor, whose parking lot borders the baseball diamond where he played in Little League. Family and friends gathered on the sidewalk as an honor guard carried the flag-draped coffin inside. Nearby, a father kneeled on the sidewalk next to his two sons, ages 8 and 4, and gently asked them, "Do you understand what just happened?"
Neither do I.