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August 23, 2005

Be Proud...

You can only study so much of the internal workings of a 60s-vintage jet, not to mention memorizing checklists, emergency procedures and all the other queep that goes into keeping the mechanical version of a pterodactyl in the air without occasionally coming up for air.

Of course, for a political junkie like me it often turns into a little recreational reading. In this case, it was one of the regular contributors to The American Spectator, Ben Stein. If you watch any Neil Cavuto on Fox, you know Ben. If you've ever watched "Win Ben Stein's Money," you know Ben. If you've ever seen "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," you know Ben.

Ben and I have been trading emails on occasion since my days as a group commander in Germany. You never know when a famous person might actually pay attention to you but when I first wrote him (I forget the subject but I know it was military-related) and was answered promptly, politely and sincerely, I thought, "Well I'll be damned. Some of these Hollywood types are human." Ben is quite human...and humane...and a man of courage. How many Hollywood conservatives have you heard of? Yeah, there's a few but most of 'em are in defilade. Not Ben.

He is a staunch advocate for conservatism and a true believer in American exceptionalism. I doubt he and Cindy Sheehan would have a lot in common and, I dare say, polite dinner conversation would be right out.

Anyway...I'm reading his latest "Ben Stein's Diary" (TAS, July/August 2005 issue) and was struck by the fact that here we are, concentrating on a parent and seem to have forgotten the other side of the coin...the children of the fallen.

Cindy has made a lot of noise; most of it silly, some of it repulsive, pretty much all of it self-contradictory. If America was a Fascist state, Cindy would probably be a lampshade right about now. But the focus has been on her (hmmm) and, more specifically, her loss as a mother.

Now, I cannot fathom the loss of my daughter. I experience the occasional frisson of imagining something horrible happening, but I think that's natural--the protective instincts often play games with your mind, running worst-case scenarios by you just to keep you on your toes and a defender of your progeny. It actually happening...well, let's not go there. So, let's acknowledge, and try to understand, in the tiniest way, Cindy's agony. Let us also get a grip.

There's another group of people out there who are standing alone with their thoughts and their memories and their grief, quietly dealing with the gaping holes in their chests.

"Dad's gone.

He's never, ever coming back. I'll never hear his voice, feel his hug, his kiss. I give all I have just to see him again, to hear him. Even him yelling at me would be fine. Delightful.

The silence is deafening."

But these kids put one foot in front of the other, day after day, making it work, dealing with it, and holding on. It is to them Ben spoke one day while in the Washington area and I think you need to read it:

Tonight I spoke at a gathering of the bravest civilians in the world, survivors of military men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were about 200 children and about 400 spouses and parents, overwhelmingly wives. We met at a hotel in Crystal City, near Arlington National Cemetery. These men and women and kids are the real cost of the war on terrorism. They are taking it with a heroism I cannot start to describe. Sweet-faced kids. Sweet-faced adults. Tears. Pride. Fear. Camaraderie. Patriotism. This is the best room I have ever been in. It is a privilege just to be on the same planet as these men and women and children. Here is what I told the kids. I’ll tell you what I told the parents another time.

It’s an honor to be here but not a pleasure. There is nowhere else I would rather be. But I wish none of you were here. None of you should have to go through what you have gone through, what you will go through. It is a tragedy, a catastrophe, and I cannot sugarcoat that.

You should know some things: You are paying the price for the war on terror. It had to be fought after 9/11. Had to be. But not everyone shares in it equally. Most people in this country and all over the Western world just go on with their lives. But you guys, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your grandparents—you are paying the full measure for this war on terror.

When the war on terror is won, we will have you and your parents to thank.

You will own a permanent honor in the history of free men and women.

There are some people who are Rockefellers or the heirs of Bill Gates or some other billionaire. Their inheritance is small and puny compared with the inheritance that you guys have been left by your hero parents. You have the honor of knowing you inherited the courage and sacrifice of your parents.

I know this does not make it any easier today, but someday it will.

I am here because I am a low-level TV and movie star and write about the armed forces a lot.

How many of you would like to be TV stars? Movie stars? Writers? NBA stars? Baseball players? Ballerinas?

You can do any of those things, because you live in a free country, bought with your parents’ lives.

But the people your parents were fighting do not want for this to be a free country. They want to control us and make us live in fear and dictatorship and terror. They want to take away our freedoms the way they have taken away freedom from the people in the countries they took over.

Your parents fought and died to let the people in those countries be free, to let their children have the same choices you have. So they can worship God as they wish, go to school as they wish, do the work they want, date who they want, marry who they want.

Your parents died to keep the people here at home free and to bring freedom to the countries where the terrorists come from.

Now, be proud, but of course you will also suffer terribly for the rest of your lives. That’s what it means to lose a parent, especially as young as you are.

What can you do about it? First of all, be good to your surviving parent, usually your mother. It is incredibly hard for her, too. Or him if it’s your dad. Their burden is overwhelming. Share their burden. Be good kids. Don’t fight with your brothers and sisters. This by itself will make it a lot easier for your parents.

Do your work at school. Be good citizens in school. Your parents were models of what Americans should be. Learn from them and be model citizens, too.

Carry in your heart the knowledge that there are stars in Hollywood, stars like Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson. And they make a lot of money and get their photos on the cover of People and Us and they get on Entertainment Tonight and The Insider. But this country could get along perfectly well without those stars. We could get along forever if Hollywood just vanished overnight.

We could not get along well, or even at all, without the real stars, the ones who keep this country going: the men and women in fatigues and BDUs who go down alleys in Fallujah and Ar-Ramadi and Mosul and Kirkuk and Baghdad and Kabul. These men and women, your parents, keep us all free. We could not live without them, not for a week.

Now, again, be proud of them.

But you are going to miss them terribly. Cruelly. And I would like to give you a suggestion for what I do when I miss my parents. I just go to a quiet place and turn off the lights and, in my mind, I compose a letter to them. And because they’re my parents, I know how they would respond, and I write in my head a lot of questions, and in my head, they answer the questions.

And then I tell them that I miss them and I am trying to live the way they would want me to live, and then I feel a lot better.

I am going to leave you with this thought. We are not here on behalf of the government, so we can talk about God, and I can say this. Your parents knew something that is vital to know. Here is what it is, and I first heard it from John F. Kennedy, a man killed in his prime more than 40 years ago. He said it very simply:

He said, we all ask God to help this great country. And we all ask God to do great things for this country and to go to work for the people we love. And God answers back, “Here on earth, my work is your work.” Your parents were doing that work. Be proud.

Now, to recap...

This war is worth it. No, not "so the fallen would not have died in vain" but to achieve what the parents of these children dedicated their lives to. The idea that freedom is worth fighting for, that it comes at a cost and we must be willing to pay it.

And the fallen aren't the only ones picking up the tab.

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