“War is simple, direct and ruthless,” said Gen. George S. Patton Jr., a man who saw firsthand the ruthlessness as a leader in World War I and World War II.
So, too, the men and women of Taos County have seen the direct ruthlessness of war – its victories and defeats – up close and personal as veterans of wars dating back generations. They have served in great numbers in every branch of the U.S. military. They hailed from many villages around the county. These veterans were Taos Pueblo, Picuris Pueblo, Spanish, Mexican, Irish, German, English and many other cultures.
Before going to war, perhaps these men and, more recently, women had little in common. They might have attended different churches, held opposite political views and spoken different languages. They were straight, gay, married, single, alcoholics, teetotalers, extroverts and painfully shy.
But they were all Americans. And whether by choice or requirement, they fought and died for the country.
And in battle, all the differences between them mattered little. Sometimes even the reasons they were at war mattered little. What mattered was how well they looked after each other, stood by each other, died for each other.
After serving, these veterans shared a bond. Those who saw battle and lost buddies could look in the eyes of other combat veterans and understand each other in a way no one else could.
Some, like those from the killing fields of WWI, WWII and Korea, came home to a country that thanked them for their service and considered them heroes.
Others, like those who served in the brutal fields and hills of Vietnam, did not. Those who came home returned to a country itself bruised and bloodied by a war over civil rights. And, once home, many Vietnam veterans found themselves shunned because of their direct service on the front lines.
More recently, those people who served in Iraq have watched their fellow Americans struggle over how to honor their service – even when they disagreed with their country’s involvement in an ill-conceived war.
In Taos, New Mexico and the country, we are facing a degree of political and social divisiveness not felt in decades. These deep divisions threaten the country we love. Finding common ground can be tough, but perhaps the best place to find that commonality is through our veterans. It is in the sacrifices of veterans from all walks of life in Taos and elsewhere that we should remember what joins us together as Americans.
We are reminded by Abraham Lincoln’s words from more than 150 years ago to “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ... and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
We honor the many sacrifices of veterans past and present and of their families on Memorial Day and every day.