Command Post Tampa
McGovern had the courage to challenge war
TAMPA — Back in 1972, when I was just 12, I volunteered for the presidential campaign of George McGovern.
Though not even a teen, I was always fascinated by news and war, and in those days, the two were very much intertwined, as every night the three networks reported the body count from a place called Vietnam.
Words such as "Khe Sahn," "Phnom Pehn" and "NVA Regular" filled the airwaves. So, too, did words such as "My Lai," "massacre" and "the Pentagon Papers," which had just been published a year before, laying bare the lies of U.S. foreign and military policy.
McGovern, a Democratic senator from South Dakota, was a fierce opponent of the war that would eventually claim more than 58,000 American lives. I was deeply saddened to learn that he died Sunday at the age of 90.
Having been raised to stand up for what you believe, McGovern's quixotic quest reinforced that lesson, and joining it is one of the reasons I cover the military today.
Contrary to the portrait painted by Richard Nixon of being unpatriotic, McGovern was a war hero. This passage from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans gives a small sample of why:
He volunteered for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II and served as a B-24 Liberator bomber pilot in the Fifteenth Air Force, flying 35 missions over enemy territory from bases in North Africa and later Italy, often against heavy anti-aircraft artillery, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving his crew by landing his damaged bomber on a British airfield on Vis, a small island off the Yugoslav coast controlled by Tito's Partisans.
McGovern saw firsthand the horror of war and had the courage to ask "why."
Why are we sending troops to Vietnam to die, to be maimed, to suffer what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, to come home mistreated and shamed.
He stood up and ran for office against perhaps the most corrupt administration this country has ever known. Even at 12, his message and his cause attracted me. I filed, made phone calls, whatever was needed during my short time as a volunteer.
McGovern, of course, was trounced. But the lessons I learned back then stayed with me.
Fast-forward 40 years, to another unpopular war being fought in another faraway place.
With vivid memories of how those who returned from Vietnam were treated, I feel duty-bound to make sure that we don't forget that we have men and women in harm's way, the more than 6,600 who have come back in coffins, or the hundreds of thousands who have been damaged for life mentally, physically or both — and the families struggling to cope.
This week, the body of Spc. Brittany Gordon, 24, of St. Petersburg, returns home, to another honor guard and another funeral for someone killed in service to the country.
It does not matter if you are for this war or against it, pro-military or a pacifist. Know the sacrifices being made and ask why.
If you don't like the answer, stand up and do something about it.
Kudos to Operation Helping Hand, which just held its 100th monthly dinner. The organization, started eight years ago, provides support for families of active duty wounded and injured at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. Last month, Rep. Gus Bilirakis honored the organization in the House of Representatives.
The Pentagon last week announced the deaths of six troops who died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, including the daughter of St. Petersburg Police Department Asst. Chief Cedric Gordon. Spc. Brittany Gordon's body will arrive at MacDill Air Force Base on Wednesday for an honor escort. The exact time is being worked out. There will be a memorial service for her at 6 p.m. Thursday in Eckerd College's Ben Hill Chapel, 4200 54th Ave. S., St. Petersburg.
Pfc. Shane G. Wilson, 20, of Kuna, Idaho, died Thursday in Khost, Afghanistan. Wilson was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.
Sgt. Robert J. Billings, 30, of Clarksville, Va., died Oct. 13 in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Spc. Brittany B. Gordon, 24, of St. Petersburg, died Oct. 13 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked her unit with an improvised explosive device. She was assigned to the 572 Military Intelligence Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Cmdr. Joel Del Mundo Tiu, 49, of Manila, Philippines, died Oct. 12 as a result of noncombat-related injuries. He was assigned to Logistics Forces, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Manama, Bahrain.
Sgt. 1st Class Ryan J. Savard, 29, of Sierra Vista, Ariz., died Oct. 13 in Khanabad District, Afghanistan, from small-arms fire while on patrol during combat operations. He was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N. C.
Sgt. Thomas R. Macpherson, 26, of Long Beach, Calif., died Oct. 12 in Andar District, Afghanistan, from small-arms fire while on patrol during combat operations. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
There have now been 2,127 deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.
Howard Altman is Senior Writer at The Tampa Tribune