War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.’ So says the lyrics of soul singer Edwin Starr. I like the song’s explosive Motown sound, and have yet to tire of watching Jackie Chan and Chris Rock’s rendition on ‘Rush Hour.’ As far as the political statement it makes, I sadly cannot completely agree. A quote from 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke comes to mind: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” War can tragically be a necessary evil. What about the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I or World War II? How can it be argued these catastrophic wars were good for nothing? How worse off would the world be if these conflicts had turned out differently? As for Alaska, its strategic military history began at the beginning. In 1867 Secretary of State William Seward convinced Congress to purchase Alaska from Russia because he strongly believed its location was vital to our national defense. Additionally, much of Alaska’s population growth through the decades can be attributed to military personnel. I want to bring two unsung veterans, each from an unpopular war, to your attention.
I do not know his name, the Vietnam Veteran I met in the late 1980s while I worked as a UAA tuition cashier. He seemed tired and worn, commenting how he was training for a second career, obviously preferring to stay with his first choice. I am not sure why Vietnam came up, but he made brief reference to it. In my mind I flashed back to my 5th grade class at Rabbit Creek Elementary. Mrs. Miller asked the class why we were fighting in Vietnam; I innocently, foolishly raised my hand, answering they were trying to take over America. She and the class laughed at me…I did not offer an answer again until I was in college and forced to participate. Remembering that shaming experience, absolutely insignificant when recalling the shameful way those veterans were treated when they came home, I impulsively stuck my hand through the cashier partition and asked to shake his hand. I told him thank you so much for serving; tears filled his eyes as he looked at me gratefully. Talking with him, I realized I no longer felt ashamed of that child’s answer back in 1971. Despite the dreadful political mismanagement of the conflict that caused it’s unconscionable failure, Vietnam was an attempt to hold the line against communism. And the spread of communism was a threat to the freedoms Americans hold so dear. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to thank that man.
The other Alaskan veteran I knew pretty well; he was my son’s best friend since we moved to Eagle River in 1994, until the young man’s death in 2005. It was clear from the first introduction he loved Alaska and loved the Army. His Dad, who was in the Alaska National Guard, inspired him. They lived just around the corner from us, and my son and he were constant companions. Being a single mom for years, I appreciated his Dad including my son in some of their father-son activities, such as fishing, camping, and the gun range. The boy had a quick smile, polite mannerisms towards adults, yet a tendency to find trouble in his own age group. My son was one of his few true friends, defending him frequently, both verbally and physically, because he did not always think before he spoke. Despite his impetuous bend for trouble, he had a good heart, and loved the Lord. He and my son, a grounded Christian himself, had many a conversation about being a believer.
Odd for a young man, he would frequent the local VFW, enjoying visits with the veterans. It was no surprise he was in ROTC, and enlisted immediately after graduation. He volunteered to go to Iraq in 2003. Because he was easily misunderstood, he had mixed experiences with his fellow soldiers. But because of his quick smile and respect for authority, his superiors could see his worth. My son was glad to hear that he frequented Prayer Groups to refresh his spiritual strength. He came home on furlough in August 2005, enjoying his friends and family one last time. Within two weeks of his return to Iraq, on September 5, 2005, Sgt Matthew C. Bohling was killed by insurgents with an IED roadside bomb. There are no words to describe the grief felt by my son, even more so by his parents. Eight years later, I still think of his sacrifice every time I see a flag flying proudly. We are free because of men like Matthew who have fought for our protection and way of life. I am thankful for him, the ones before and after him, for the impossible price they paid for my country. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” I pray for the safety of those who continue to fight – I thank the Lord for their perseverance and strength under fire. And I thank each one of our military personnel for serving. Thank you so much.