Living with the continued cost of war

By Karel Ancona-Henry

Driving through Mound House last week, I was passed by a gentleman who was wearing that style of ball cap that designated him as someone who had served in the military, and judging by his age, I would guess he had been in Korea or Vietnam, or perhaps both.

My truck at this point, being that we're in an election cycle, looks like a political billboard. "Peace, please," "Out of Iraq Now," "If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention," are a sampling of where I'm at in this debate.

As this gentleman passed me, I realized he would most likely think I'm "an anti-war liberal," the person who has that feeling about conflict no matter what.

There was a point in my life when that would have been true.

But I have lived with a Vietnam vet whose military photo shows a freckle-faced boy who looks like he should be going out fishing for a day, not leaving to a war zone.

He was a baby.

I have lived through violent flashbacks and taught the girls to make sure if they were coming into the bedroom in the dark of night to loudly announce themselves to alleviate any chance of harm befalling them. I can tell you how to hide in the water while sleeping, and how to smoke in the bush so the enemy can't see you.

When I finally realized the morning ritual of dumping out his boots at the bedside was a compulsion of daily life brought home from war (easy fix, I put down an area rug), I began to see how his experiences colored every day of continuing life.

And it broke my heart.

The legacy - the alcoholism and anger that are used to cover deeper issues - are in their own way harmful to everyone in the family.

Several years ago, my mom was visiting and I had put the newest Crosby & Nash CD on to play.

Everything was OK until a song about the Memorial Wall started. There was my husband, in the living room, sobbing uncontrollably.

More than 30 years after his return.

After calming him, I said to my mother, "You voted for George Bush, therefore, you are in part responsible for this war. This is the legacy, the hell that other families will still be living 30 years from now."

And that is where I'm at today.

Our government sends our young people to fight for political or economic reasons, but we try to give significant meaning to the loss. Democracy, my ass.

"You know miss lady what this war is," asked Chuck, a 27-year-old soldier who had just returned from Iraq and who was to return in August this year, "This is a war for oil and we have been lied to."

Still, this honorable young man was willing to return so that he could make sure "my boys get home so their parents can hug them."

Each of those vets are a pebble in the pond. Some never come home. Some come home and actually get the help they need. So many others do not.

Just last week it was announced that one in four homeless people are veterans of war. How sad, how unacceptable is that?

The pain and anguish of their experience ripples out, touching lives in ways that at least in my eyes are incomprehensible, unavoidable. For those veterans and those families, the war never ends.

And the heartbreak continues.

• Karel Ancona-Henry can be reached at or at 246-4000.


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