George W. Bush was more than three-fourths through his recent made-for-television speech at Fort Bragg before telling us anything useful. He gave us an Internet address: Americasupportsyou.mil. ” You can go there, ” said the President, ” to learn about private efforts in your own communities–a way to thank the men and women of the military.” And thank the troops we shall, just as we westerners have always done.
Those of us in the states of the Rocky Mountains have contributed heavily to our nation’s military efforts. We have a long history of sending our sons and daughters into America’s battles. To shore up those fights we have stripped our mountainsides of timber, dug the copper necessary for the hulls of our Navy’s ships, and provided lead for needed ammunition. We westerners are proud that in every war we have put men in the ranks and rock in the box.
Many of us are direct descendants of those who fought in the Civil War and, following that carnage, settled here–my grandfather among them. We sent many men to fight in the short-lived Spanish-American War and to this day we honor the dwindling organizations that still remember those who fell in that questionable war.
Every city, hamlet and region in America sent its sons and daughters off to World Wars I and II, but here in the West our contribution was unusually heavy. In the First World War, the eight lightly populated states of the Rockies lost 1,838 men, with a full one-third of those casualties from Montana. And, also according to the Department of Defense, we Rocky Mountain westerners lost 14,049 of our sons and daughters in World War II, with my home state of Montana sending a higher percentage of its citizens to those battlefields than did any other state in the nation.
During and following the tragically mistaken war in Vietnam, people out our way are forever grateful to those who died and sympathetic toward those who fought and returned. Perhaps we did not properly welcome them home, as some others also failed to do, but we were among the first to open storefront peer counseling centers for our Vietnam Vets.
Western members of Congress, I proudly among them, were the most aggressive in the nation at sponsoring and fighting for healthcare and benefits for those veterans. From the liberal high plains Senator Tom Daschle, who created the Agent Orange Health Care Act, to the conservative southwesterner, Senator Barry Goldwater, who fought continually for both readiness and Veteran benefits, we have always said, “Thanks.”
In this latest catastrophic mistake, Iraq, we continue to honor our Vets and in doing so we are appalled to learn that the Bush administration, so quick to go to war, has under calculated by five-fold the V.A. healthcare dollars needed to care for our returning injured from Iraq.
We are angered that Bush and his neo-con advisors have unnecessarily placed the lives of our sons and daughters in danger in the shooting gallery that is Iraq, angered that the President can’t get help from our few remaining allies to secure the borders of Iraq and at least stem the rising tide of terrorists that are now flooding that country, furious that in response to a question from one of our soldiers about lack of life-protecting armor, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said dismissively, “Look, stuff happens.”
Frankly, here in the West we reject Bush’s silly, pseudo cowboy lingo about “chase ’em down, ” “smoke ’em out of their holes, ” and ” get ’em dead or alive.”
We resent his continual waving of the bloody shirt of September 11th.
Out our way, we know about war and we can shoot straight; what we prefer is a president who can do the same.
As of the end of June, here is the West ‘ s Honor Roll of the Iraq War–our dead: Montana 6; Idaho 13; Wyoming 6; Colorado 23; Utah 8; Nevada 11; Arizona 43; and New Mexico 10. That terrible toll is 120 dead and another 812 grievously wounded. Yes, we know about honoring our Veterans-dead and alive.
PAT WILLIAMS served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at The University of Montana where he also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West