You don’t have to celebrate war to celebrate warriors


Dr. Lloyd Lyter, Special Correspondent

Vincent Mecca, opinion co-editor, asked me to write a piece for The Wood Word, saying he heard I was “big into veteran affairs.” I thought, “well that’s easy enough,” but, as the due date got closer, (it’s due today and I’m sitting in Starbucks in Atlanta) I found myself realizing that all of the thoughts I had been having over the past few weeks just kept rushing in.

I’m a Vietnam era Air Force veteran. No, I didn’t serve in Vietnam; I served in New Mexico and the Republic of Korea.

To be perfectly honest, I tried valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to not serve in the military. I was an undergraduate student then and tried to stretch a four-year degree into a five-year time frame. My draft board frowned on the idea and sent me a notice that they somehow felt they could not win the war without me. Convinced I didn’t want to carry a rifle through the jungles of Vietnam, not knowing who the enemy was, I enlisted in the Air Force.

After basic training, I was assigned as a Personal Affairs Specialist at Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, New Mexico. The major duty of the office was to make casualty notifications to family members of Air Force personnel listed as killed, captured, or missing in Vietnam, then work with the families to settle estates or to provide ongoing supportive services until the missing member was repatriated, if captured, or listed as killed or captured if missing. That was a very sobering and maturing set of responsibilities.

I spent two and one half years there. I then spent thirteen months in Korea. I was discharged as I returned to the United States, and returned to college to finish my degree.

Sometime later, as the war ended and the prisoners returned home, I spent several tearful days sitting in front of the TV watching previous prisoners get off planes and reading long lists of their names, hoping to see names of men whose families I had worked with. One particular name stuck with me across those years. Never seeing his name on those lists, I assumed he was killed.

Some years later I had occasion to visit “the wall” in Washington, D.C. I hesitantly searched the list of casualties for his name. Fortunately, it wasn’t there; I could only assume he came home. I’m unsure why that one name held such significance for me. I guess it was a symbol for me of all of those who served there.

Vietnam was an unpopular war and many of those who served there, risking, and in some cases giving, their all returned home to angry, sometimes hostile receptions. Today we are involved in two conflicts, Afghanistan and Iraq, that are also unpopular with many. Fortunately, those who serve today are being welcomed home warmly.

As I said, I’m in Atlanta right now. As I travel, I take great pride in the acknowledgement I see people give those in uniform in airports. Today’s returnees, both male and female, served proudly, as did those of my era who served in Vietnam. It appears society is now able to separate the warriors from the war.