By Ray Smock
Today is Veterans Day and I acknowledge with deep gratitude the service of the men and women of all our armed forces whether on active duty or in the reserves. Veterans Day is a federal holiday set aside for the purpose of showing our respect for military service to our nation. We also have another day, Memorial Day, which we set aside to remember those who died in all the wars that have been fought in the history of our country. Today I combine both of these holidays to remember one soldier. I learned yesterday morning of the passing of Tomas Young, who was the subject of a remarkable 2007 documentary Body of War.
Tomas was a young man of 24 who enlisted to fight the terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers in New York City, attacked the Pentagon, and downed Flight 93 in Pennsylvania on that tragic day of 9/11/2001. He thought he was going to fight in Afghanistan, but found himself deployed to Iraq instead. His spine was severed by a shot from an AK-47 rifle within days of his arrival in Iraq. He came home a paraplegic and his injuries worsened with complications until he lost the use of all his limbs and was paralyzed from the neck down.
The story of his struggle to live was documented in a powerful film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue. It showed the terrible human cost of war and the internal struggle of a young man who became a prominent anti-war soldier, wondering how the United States managed to enter a war in Iraq which had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. He said “If I don’t fight the system, I will die.”
The men and women who serve this country in uniform should know that when they are placed in harm’s way that our elected officials have determined after an honest analysis and much debate that the nation needs to be defended. We never really had that serious debate in the case of the war in Iraq. The United States Senate voted to support that war with hardly any discussion. It is painful to go back and listen to the reasons given for our entry into that war, many of which were later proven to be completely false. It is doubly painful to recall the sacrifices of so many soldiers like Tomas Young.
Senator Byrd was one of 23 Senators who voted against that war and he appears in the film Body of War speaking out against it on the floor of the Senate. On February 12, 2003, in one of his most impassioned speeches, Senator Byrd said “To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as the nation stand at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet this chamber is, for the most part, silent—ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the shear turmoil of events.”
The best legacy we can leave for Tomas Young, and the best promise we should make to current and future veterans, is that our leaders fight harder to avoid war but when war becomes necessary it is only after the nation’s leaders have clearly articulated the need to go to war and explained publicly the reasons why our national interests require defense.
And the other thing we owe to all veterans is that when soldiers come home from war with deep wounds that we do everything in our power to help them with the best and most efficient medical care we are capable of providing. When wars are over the suffering continues for so many. May Tomas Young and his brothers and sisters who died for our country rest in peace.
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