2006-10-13 / Columnists

From The Right

A Vietnam Veteran and Iraq
Commentary By Eric Ulrich

It was forty years ago yesterday, October 12 1966, that Bill Terlik reported for duty with the United States Army at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. He was only 19 years old at the time and still remembers his mother Eugenia crying when the draft notice arrived in the mail. For him, it was no big deal. Terlick, along with the rest of his generation, was a descendant of the World War II heroes. They were the brave men and women who had served our nation so honorably and saved the world from Nazi Germany. Young men like Bill responded to the call of duty with great fortitude. For them, it was an honor to follow in the footsteps of such courageous men. However, by the time the Vietnam conflict began to escalate, those who were doing the job their country asked them to do received little fanfare. Instead, they were treated with sheer malice and utter disrespect.

As a veteran, he remembers vividly the pain and torment of war. The sounds of his mother crying at the airport "Come back! Come back!" still ring in his ear. Sadly, although his battalion left American soil with more than 600 troops, it only came back with fewer than 100 due to nutrition and casualties.

Not too long ago, Terlick was asked for advice by a young man about to be sent to Iraq. Terlick plainly offered the only advice that helped him survive the perils of war, "Don't trust anyone. Do not trust women. Don't even trust children." Sadly, truer words could not be spoken. One only has to turn on the television to see the terrorists using innocent women and children as homicide bombers. Luckily, that young man made it home from Iraq and thanked him personally for his advice and his prayers. However, as in any war, not everyone makes its home. According to the Washington Post, to date more than 2,700 soldiers have been killed in Iraq along with a little more than 20,000 wounded. Although that only represents a fraction of the 140,000 troops currently deployed in Iraq, most would agree that one life lost is one too many.

While he sometimes disagrees with how the war is being conducted, Terlik stops short of condemning the war altogether. Instead, he feels that supporting our men and women in uniform is more important than politics. "No matter how you feel about the war or our President, we must support our troops," Terlick said defiantly. "I don't believe in demonstrations or marching in the streets. That only demoralizes our troops overseas. When I was in Vietnam, it was depressing to see the protests on the front pages of American newspapers. It made us think, why are we here? It's just not right. If you're truly dissatisfied with the war, write your congressman and vote accordingly," Terlik added. He concluded his interview by saying, "The troops over there are our sons, daughters, husbands and wives. Don't forget them just because the war is not popular. In the beginning, we sent packages and letters to mere strangers because they were our troops. They're just doing their duty as many of us did 40 years ago."

The recent surge in killings has prompted many to ask why so many soldiers being killed in Iraq all of a sudden. One military expert suggests that the coalition's new combating method is to blame. Michael E. O'Hanlon is a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. He believes that the rise in American casualties is mainly driven by the military's shift in tactics. Specifically, he is referring to the military's decision to go on the offensive in densely populated Iraqi cities, such as Baghdad. "We have more people on patrols and out of base, so we get more people hurt and killed in firefights," he said in a recent interview.

The frustration over Iraq is one that is likely to persist as the number of fallen troops continues to mount. In addition, the sectarian divide there between Sunnis and Shiites seems to have deepened since the invasion and to make matters worse, many of our allies are starting to doubt that there is any end in sight. Understandably, we must proceed with caution. Once known as the cradle of civilization, Iraq has become a hotbed for violence and a breeding ground for terrorists. However, no matter how hard the pressure may be to endure or the temptation to leave may be, we simply cannot cut and run out of Iraq. Our mission is too important to abandon and if we leave the Iraqi people stranded, the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives to liberate them will have died in vain.

Isn't it quite ironic that some of the people who led the battle cry to topple Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime are the same people who now want to leave the Iraqi people in turmoil and distress? Is it not our moral imperative to never forget our solemn vow to rid the world of terrorism? Let us never forget our 9/11 promise to the world. We cannot renege on our promise to leave our children a peaceful world that is free from the fear of terrorism and the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists.

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