For some veterans, wars never end
Troops now coming home from Iraq -- and those scheduled to return from Afghanistan next year -- often carry the war with them.
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Some wars come to a full stop in the elation of a VE Day. More often, as now, they end ambiguously. Combatants tire of fighting and recognize the futility of continuing. Under President Obama, programmed endings are in place for Iraq and Afghanistan. The president emphasized to a veterans’ group on Aug. 2 that Iraq is concluding “as promised and on schedule.” By July 2011, a US drawdown is to begin in Afghanistan as well, and three years later the Afghan government will be on its own.Skip to next paragraph
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Rebuilding those shattered countries will take decades. The insurgencies may or may not have been quelled. Iraq and Afghanistan will follow a path no one can predict. (To view a scorecard of the state of Iraq as the pullout begins, go here. For a timetable of what happens next in Afghanistan, click here.)
In any case, the fight is coming to an end for the American and allied troops deployed to those wars. Most will quietly resume the lives they left behind. They will raise families and become productive citizens. Some will struggle. All will live with their memories – vivid and disturbing now, softening with time.
That same cycle occurred with the Civil War, the most costly in American history. Half a century after the most important battle of that war, a reunion was held at Gettysburg. White-haired blues and grays traded stories and fell into one another’s arms after a gentle reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. Today, most people don't know the date of the Battle of Gettysburg or why it was so important that Abraham Lincoln declared the battlefield “hallowed ground.”
Memories fade. Frank Buckles came home and worked his West Virginia cattle farm until he was 103. The last doughboy has lived a peaceful life not far from the Civil War battlefields. He has seen a century of war, including the latest ones, which now begin their slow fade into history.
“The best thing to honor our veterans,” he says, “is to stand behind them from the beginning of their military lives to the very end of their lives.”