Lowering our flags to half-staff seems to be an all too familiar sight these days. It is a solemn act that recognizes our fallen heroes, whether they be men and women in our armed forces, or a Vancouver police officer killed in the line of duty. It is a vivid reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by those who serve us.
Unfortunately, after those flags return to the top of the pole and time passes, we tend to forget that the suffering for the friends and families continues. The loneliness, financial stress and emotional strain lives on. That is when those husbands, wives, sons, daughters and parents need our comfort and help the most.
America’s war on terror didn’t end with our abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer. The war won’t be won like World War II with a massive invasion of Normandy and a march across Europe to Berlin. Rather, there are continued daily battles where the enemy mixes with civilians and ambushes people, explodes roadside bombs, and drives vehicles packed with explosives into mosques, busy markets and military encampments.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, our country has been immersed in a war against terrorists. We cleansed Afghanistan from Al-Qaida and then watched the brutal Taliban take over the country with minimal resistance. We unwisely gave them our strategically vital high tech Bagram Air Force Base and billions in advanced military equipment for which American taxpayers paid.
We sent the 82nd Airborne and Marines to tight quarters at the Kabul airport and airlifted thousands to safer places. In the process, 13 brave Americans in uniform were killed by a suicide bomber. Then, we paused to watch the returning flag-draped coffins come home to Dover Air Force Base — but didn’t hear much about those who were wounded from that brazened assault. Now, we go about our daily routines, but the suffering and anguish lasts.
Consider the story of Father Tim Vakoc, a Catholic priest severely injured in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq in May 2004. He was returning from saying Mass in the field when shrapnel from the explosive ripped through his vehicle and lodged in his brain.
Vakoc, who grew up near Minneapolis, became a U.S. Army chaplain in 1996. After assignments in Germany and Bosnia, he had a brief stop at Fort Lewis before heading to Iraq in 2003. I met Vakoc at the Main Post Chapel and got to know him. Just before he was deployed, we went to a Mariners game. We talked about taking in another game when he returned.
After he was wounded, his family kept a vigil at his bedside. After five years in a coma, he miraculously awoke and appeared on the road to recovery. Then on June 20, 2009, he unexpectedly died.
Vakoc is one of thousands of similar stories. Unfortunately, we can’t wave a magic wand and make the terrorists disappear. The reality of today’s world is there will be more attacks on Americans, innocent civilians and people of all faiths — or no religious affiliation.
Our countrymen and women will continue to put on their military and police uniforms and put themselves in harm’s way. The tragic truth is more will die and suffer lifelong injuries and disabilities. We must not forget the sacrifices they make to keep us safe and free.
So while Nov. 11 will come and go, as will Memorial Day, hopefully we will not only pause to remember, but commit to support and befriend our troops, cops and their families. It is the least we can do.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.