The writer, of Omaha, is the Douglas County assessor.
Seventy-five years ago in 1938, Nov. 11 was declared a national holiday. The Veterans of Foreign Wars pointed out then that Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) presented “an ideal opportunity for those who are interested in the perpetuation of patriotism, preservation of peace and an adequate national defense to unite in ceremonies.”
This year is also the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, ending America’s war in Vietnam.
Vietnam was my war.
Today, I remember my friends who died during that war. Many of them gave up the chance to become husbands, fathers and Little League coaches. Today, I also remember those they may have left behind: wives, sons and daughters who would never have their dads walk them down the aisle.
Many nights in the Vietnam jungle, I would look up at the stars. I had picked out a small constellation and called it mine. I found a certain peace in the heavens — there wasn’t peace on earth.
I would sip on a warm can of cola not knowing when I would fall asleep. But soon I would hear a cobra gunship flying overhead, guarding our perimeter. Then I would see Spooky (AC-47 gunship) spit a trail of tracers from its mini-guns at some target on the ground. But it wasn’t until I felt the earth move and heard the rumble of bombs falling from B-52s miles away that I would finally fall asleep.
While in Vietnam, many of us were amateur philosophers. We pondered the life-and-death issues of the day. I became haunted by the lyrics of a song Air Force veteran Dick Jonas wrote during one of his tours:
Can you say will the sun rise tomorrow?
Will there be any time left to borrow?
Will the poet make a rhyme?
Will there be any time?
Can you say there will be a tomorrow?
Seems to me I have been here forever.
Will this war ever end maybe never?
Will the dawn still arrive?
Will I still be alive?
Or will I sleep alone here forever?
These nights, 40-some years later, I sit on my front porch sipping a cold can of cola. I search the skies for that same constellation. That dawn years ago never arrived for some of my friends, but I don’t think they’re sleeping in Vietnam forever. I believe they’re at peace in that constellation, in the heavens, in a better place.
This night, I hear a mother calling her young son to come inside “because it’s dark.” I see the lights of a jet airplane overhead taking business and vacationing passengers to destinations unknown. I sit in silence for a while. I feel and hear a soft breeze brush the trees.
Tonight, it will be easy to sleep. There was a tomorrow. There have been many tomorrows since that year in Vietnam.
You see, many of us did become husbands, fathers and Little League coaches. I celebrate today with these brothers. We won our war — we came home.