War and cherry blossoms

By , Ms. Maiman served with the Red Cross in Vietnam in 1970- 71; she is now a commissioner with the Illinois Agent Orange Study Commission.

The scenes are so familiar. . . . Weeping parents holding a picture of a serviceman in front of a flag and saying that while they are not sure they understand why he had to die, they hope that his death was worth it.

The scenes of Lebanon bring back memories of 12 years ago. I was in Vietnam then. Stationed at an evacuation hospital with the Red Cross, I saw firsthand the effects of war.

Those who really pay the price of war are not policymakers but those who send their sons and daughters to serve the nation.

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In listening to the words of those marines in Lebanon I hear echoes of other teen-agers: ''We are helping to defend these people,'' ''I am proud to serve my country,'' and ''Mom, I'll be home soon'' were said before. For some young men in both cases, the happy homecoming was not to be. Instead, they returned in flag-draped caskets.

The defense of freedom has always been the collective responsibility of those who live in a free society. But as one who has seen firsthand what war is and what it costs families, I would hope that this time we consider the repercussions of our actions. The lives of those who serve the nation cannot be thrown away lightly: They are far too precious.

The Vietnam veterans' memorial bears the names of over 57,000 young men and women who died in the name of freedom. For their families and friends the political rhetoric matters little. In a matter of a few seconds a life may be ended in the service to fellow citizens. Those citizens, I believe, have the responsibility to be sure that we define our goals clearly, and to see that the price our young are asked to pay is really essential to our freedom as a nation and to the survival of freedom in the world.

If we do not do this, we fail those who serve us and we fail ourselves as citizens of a free land.

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