I can only count one contemporary killed in active military duty — my middle school and high school classmate Steve Voight, the subject of one of my very first blog entries. While I’ve had family members who served in active duty in both World Wars, I and my own peers have been a bit young for Vietnam and a bit too old for the Persian Gulf, at least young recruits. When my high school class last got together in 2000, we had few details of Steve’s death; a bit of Google work on this Memorial Day reveals more about his active service. An excerpt from his last letter (included on the site) captures the seriousness with which Steve approached even the mundane of his service:
Breakfast: Forty-five minute wait in line. Every meal is the same. Standing in line sweating. That’s OK, though. There are people in my country who neither know or care that their freedom is being protected at this very moment. That too is OK, because I do know. I’m doing it.
Steve wrote that in 1996, just days before he was killed in a search and rescue mission. While most of us were watching Top Gun in cable TV syndication, Steve was embedded in reality resembling the last scene of the movie. In the dozen years since, I think most Americans have developed a much deeper sense of what’s happening in the Persian Gulf, and we’ve all formed opinions of our continued presence there. Whatever you believe about the foreign policies of the United States, never for a moment doubt the integrity, courage, patience, and confidence of the men and women of our armed forces.
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground. — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Written during the later days of the Vietnam War, equally applicable to the Persian Gulf wars.