On this Memorial Day – May 29 – we pay tribute to the nearly 1.4 million Americans who have sacrificed their lives in our country’s wars, including about 667,000 who fell in combat. This is a solemn duty for those of us who have served in or near war zones, as well as for everyone else who should not forget their heroism. This is not a one-day affair.
In our recent wars, starting with Vietnam, we have seen a new phenomenon, where American troops have joined forces with local allies to fight against a common enemy. For those of us who have worked closely with these local allies – whether they were South Vietnamese, Iraqis or Afghans – we cannot ignore their losses either. They fought and died for the same cause as we did. Even though our Memorial Day is dedicated to our own war dead, I think it would be fitting to also honor these foreign partners on this special day.
I spent most of my time in Vietnam living and working with South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs), mostly belonging to the Catholic or Cao Dai faiths. They were human beings with the same dreams and aspirations as most Americans. I trusted them with my life, and I believe they trusted me with theirs. I cannot remember America’s fallen without remembering them. Almost 300,000 ARVNs died in the war, and we left many more of them to a terrible fate. They deserve our respect and gratitude. I know that many Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan feel the same way about their foreign partners. When you form trusting bonds in wartime, it is hard to break them.
Our relationship with the people of Ukraine is different, where we are mostly non-combat partners providing moral support and weapons from afar, but I feel the same way about them. The Ukrainians are fighting and dying in a war that serves not only their own interests, but also those of the United States and NATO, as well as our allies across the globe. Ukraine is the crucial front line that defends freedom and democracy from the tyrannical regimes in Russia, China and Iran.
If we let Russia win, it will embolden the dictators, possibly leading to more conflicts in Taiwan and other nations in Asia, Africa and South America that are targeted by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Although I rarely agree with U.S. Sen. Jim Risch on anything, Ukraine is one such issue – a very important one. The senator understands that it is vital for America’s strategic interests that Ukraine prevails in Putin’s murderous war. I share his view that the U.S. needs to increase and expedite the delivery of military equipment to Ukraine. Sen. Risch has noted that “the Ukrainians are fighting today for what our founding fathers fought for in 1776.”
By the way, that remark was made when the senator recently recalled his meeting in Ukraine with a former Green Beret from Boise, Nick Maimer, who had been volunteering to train Ukrainian civilians on how to defend their country. Maimer was reported to have been killed by Russian artillery fire earlier this month. May he rest in peace. He joins thousands of Ukrainians who have died in the fight.
Ukraine has reportedly suffered 124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 killed in action and 109,000-113,500 wounded. Because their fight is largely our fight, it would be appropriate to remember and mourn them, along with our war dead and our foreign partners who died in supporting American troops. On Memorial Day, I’ll be remembering my 58,220 brothers and sisters who died serving their country in Vietnam. I’ll also be thinking of Lieutenants Dinh and Tanh, Captain Thanh and interpreter Tom, who were with us all the way until we abandoned them to their ugly fate in 1975.