The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles
Editor and Publisher 

On Gettysburg, the Greatest Generation, and Vietnam



One hundred and fifty years ago this day, the river of fate of the United States shifted, overflowing its banks with the blood of some 51,000 casualties in three days of brutal warfare we know as the battle of Gettysburg.

The battle was fought July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. The next day, the Fourth of July, Robert E. Lee’s army began a sullen withdrawal from the battlefield in a heavy rain that almost seemed to reflect the awful aftermath of the engagement.

For a time I drove a tour bus at Gettysburg. Visiting the hallowed sites on the battlefield day after day as a tape in the bus delivered dramatized accounts of the activities at each location was overwhelmingly moving. Being able to stand at the very place when Lincoln delivered words he considered unlikely to be remembered truly inspired awe.

“We cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground,” Lincoln said that day, his very words entering immortal consecration. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” Visiting Gettysburg, as a million and a half people each year still do, you understand the significance of those words, which speak of the astonishing self-sacrifice offered there. Soldiers rode or marched into certain death so many times those three days, giving that last full measure of devotion of which Christ said no greater love hath any man, and with a sense of duty and honor our society today often struggles to comprehend, let alone equal.

The flow of fate of this country has been altered many times by measureless selflessness. The cumulative contributions of those exhibiting that selflessness lead them to be called great generations, the last one often considered to be that of World War II. A veteran of that era was in the office a while back, and talk drifted to the general state of affairs in the country today. He observed, “Sometimes it makes you wonder—is this what we were fighting for?”

His question brought to mind my time in Vietnam. I was hardly thrilled to enter the Army against my will back then. But by the time I finished a year of Vietnamese language school and more time in military intelligence training, and then finally served a tour in the country, speaking the language, meeting and talking with the residents, and coming to see how much the American presence actually meant to them—in sharp contrast to the image typically presented back home—I came to an appreciation of the American role. To be sure, there were conditions between U.S. forces and the Vietnamese that I considered deplorable and that I would be asked about as a rare Westerner who could speak their difficult tonal language with skill. Even so, all the Vietnamese I met, to a person, were profoundly grateful for U.S. involvement.

What were we fighting for? Today there is a list of statements sweeping around the internet called “A nation founded by geniuses and run by idiots” that begs the question eloquently. The problem is, the people put the idiots in power. This country has had its epochs of idiocy before and we’ve rebounded, so all may not be lost.

Lincoln concluded his address at Gettysburg with an exhortation that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The people did indeed have a new birth of freedom. What we need, perhaps, is a new birth of realization that true freedom is not the ability to do whatever one wishes but rather the ability to leave a legacy of nobility and greatness for generations to come.


Reader Comments

lummy46 writes:

I served in the Vietnamese War and now look back and knew then that it was a total waste of American lives and American assets. For the writer of this article to infer that America's greatness was served our involvement in the Vietnamese War is just total ignorance in my opinion. It was a civil war we had no business getting involved in. Communism is just another form of dictatorship oppressing the poor which always fails. We were attached on Septm 11 and I fully support the Afgan war, but not the Iraq war. Go get them, but then get out. Vietnam was a disgrace from the beginning until the end. We did however get some great new immigrants from Southeast Asia. Great New Americans they are.


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