When I served in Vietnam, I tended to see the issues concerning the war from my point of view, and only from my point of view. I didn't think much about family and home, at least in terms of the war, because frankly, they were safe and I was the one being shot at.
It took more than a few years for me to realize that life on the home front was not all wine and roses, especially for my mother.
We now are four years into Battle for Iraq in the War on Terror and out across America hundreds of thousands of family members wait out the deployment of loved ones. Some have gone through this several times now as Iraq turns out multi-tour vets, as Vietnam once did.
During the Vietnam War we rarely heard about the multi-tour vets because the media and anti-war crowd wanted America to believe that the troops did not believe in the cause or our successes. Today we hear about the multi-tour Iraq vet quite often because the media wants us to believe they are indelibly scarred by their experiences and running out of steam.
But there are people who are far better equipped to speak about these veterans. Deborah Johns is one of these people.
At the turn of this century Deborah was raising her family as a single parent, and very much wanted her son William, her oldest, to go to college on an athletic scholarship.
This wasn't wishful thinking on her part. He was an excellent athlete, especially in baseball, and was being actively scouted while in high school. But he was injured in his junior year and sat out while he recuperated. It was during this time that William became interested in the military, and after some serious reviews of what each service had to offer, decided he wanted to become a Marine.
Deborah had been a single parent for nearly a decade by then, raising William and his two siblings with no help from her ex-husband, who had left the family for a variety of reasons, all the wrong ones, and was no longer a factor in their lives.
College would have provided her son with a variety of career choices. And although she didn't say it, college would have been a wonderful victory for her, showing how well she had done raising a family on her own. But first and foremost Deborah is a Mom, concerned with her children's safety and futures, and she made no bones about her displeasure with William's sudden interest in the military. But by then the terrorist attacks of 9-11 had occurred and William wanted to serve his country.
Finally, matters came to a head, and William drove Deborah to the Marine Corps recruiting station, asking that she sign a waiver allowing him to join on the delayed entry program. She wasn't happy about it, but she eventually signed and after graduation from high school William left for boot camp.
After he graduated as a Marine and completed his infantry training, William was assigned to a unit in the First Marine Division, and then left for Iraq where he was a sniper. Deborah supported him in many ways, including, well, I'll let you tell her in her own words:
"At Christmas time 2002, I received a letter from the Marines that my son was going to be deployed to the Middle East. When he deployed in February, I gave him a yellow ribbon to keep in the breast pocket of his shirt and I kept one with me every day as well. My friend Colleen Tanenbaum, and I had the first meeting for Marine Moms here in Northern California.
"Moms came from Redding, San Francisco, Reno, Fresno, Santa Cruz, and all over to form a support group for one another while our sons were deployed. We met for lunch once a month in Sacramento at a restaurant called Woody's. The restaurant sat alongside a river. We each had a yellow rose and after we ate lunch, talked about our sons and encouraged one another, we would stand on the dock and say the name of our loved one, their unit, and then throw the rose into the river.
"Everyone in the restaurant would watch, there were a lot of tears, and then a standing ovation. Somehow, throwing the rose in the river made us all feel better that they would return home safely."
But there was more to do to support the troops and Deborah and her new friends found myriad ways. Again, in Deborah's own words:
"I worked with my church, Bayside, and a local radio station, and we held huge donation drives to get supplies of needed items to our troops - baby wipes, toilet paper, beef jerky, q-tips, crackers, candy, anything and everything came in for the donation drives. We also raised over $70K in funds to ship the stuff over to the guys in Iraq. There was a lot of support for our troops at that time.
"I also encouraged everyone to put yellow ribbons on their trees for support for our troops."
Eventually William came home, although his arrival was delayed for three months when he gave his rotation slot to a married Marine so his friend could join his family. But then he got orders for his second deployment. He served again, and again Deborah did all she could to support William, his brother and sister Marines, and by extension all the servicemen and women fighting the War on Terror.
But there was more to it this time, and a difference from his first tour. Deborah continues:
"In April 2004, Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq. By the middle of May, Cindy Sheehan was making a lot of noise about this war being a senseless war. I received a phone call from William asking me what was going on back at home and did the American people support the troops any longer?
"He said not to listen to the media, as they are not reporting the truth about what is going on in Iraq. William said 'Mom, don't let what happened to the Vietnam Vets happen to us.' I told him I would do whatever I can do for the support of them all.
"I then worked with the California Assembly and had May 22, 2004 designated as California's Yellow Ribbon Day in support of our Military and Military Families. On Memorial Day 2004, we had over 300 people at our luncheon; news media, assemblymen and women all came out and gave us proclamations and resolutions in support of our military. We even had a flyover by the Coast Guard. The day was awesome."
"But in August 2005 when Cindy Sheehan claimed she spoke for 'All of America' that no one supported President Bush and the Administration, that was it for me. I then worked with Move America Forward and did two caravan tours of 'You Don't Speak for me Cindy,' which went to Crawford, Texas, and then across the Midwest to Washington D.C.
"The rally in Crawford, TX was awesome. We had over 4,200 people. These rallies were a way to let our government and the world know that the majority of American people do support our troops and their mission to win this War on Terror. While in Crawford, more than 400 Gold Star Families had e-mailed me to remove their sons' names from the crosses that Cindy had put up in the ditch. As I walked the ditch, I came across name after name. I went to the funerals of some of the names I removed, and it was so personal I just sobbed.
"It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. My friend, a Gold Star Mom, Debbie Argel-Bastin, asked me to remove her son's name, Derek Bastin because Debbie could not come to Crawford, because she was having cancer surgery. Debbie spoke with Cindy Sheehan personally and asked Cindy not to use her son's name. Cindy told Debbie that if she wanted Derek's name removed she would have to come to Texas and do it herself. Well, Debbie could not do that, so I did it. Then I personally gave Debbie the tag with Derek's name on it.
"Unfortunately, Cindy has not only continued bashing President Bush and the administration, but also our military. She has taken her complaints and disdain to other countries meeting with thugs like Hugo Chavez. She is funded by Code Pink and Moveon.org. She formed her own group, Gold Star Families for Peace, funded by the Democratic party and has continued to gain notoriety by using her son Casey as her excuse and trying to claim she is a grieving mother.
"All the major talk shows have invited the two of us to come on their shows, but Cindy refuses. Then she is invited to speak with Gold Star parents who have suffered the same loss as she has, and she refuses to meet with them stating that if they don't believe her, they have been brainwashed and are crazy.
"In keeping my commitment to my son, I have continued to write articles of the great things that our military is doing in Iraq, continued with the luncheons, continued to speak out on TV and radio for the support of our troops."
William re-deployed on Sept. 11, 2006 for his third tour of duty in Iraq, with 1st Force Recon. Deborah is still every bit as supportive, perhaps even more so, especially with what she sees as back-biting from some in Congress toward the Bush Administration.
She says, "This is only hurting our troops. The question is no longer why are we there, but we are and now what are we going to do about it, and the best possible way to do it. I wrote a letter to the American People which has appeared on the GOP website, Hannity and Colmes, and spread across the country like wildfire that we need to support our troops.
"That is when the third 'These Colors Don't Run,' caravan was formed. It was a 24 city tour across the south, ending in Washington, D.C., where the group joined with the Gathering of Eagles, Free Republic. Com, Move America Forward, Patriot Guard Riders, Vietnam Veterans, Rolling Thunder, and numerous other organizations.
"When the Vietnam Vets got wind that Jane Fonda was going to be in D.C. to speak out against them again, and not support these troops and their effort, as well as possibly desecrate their memorial, "The Wall," it all hit the roof so to speak. In Washington, we outnumbered the 'anti' group 5-1. Jane Fonda did not show up. Good thing for her.
"But the rally in Washington D.C. was awesome. There were veterans from every era there to support our troops and their mission. The only thing, once again was the lack of media coverage. We received a phone call from CSPAN saying that they were not going to give us any coverage, because they felt it is not what the American people wanted to hear.
"The problem since Cindy Sheehan started her back-biting of President Bush is that the media only wants to put her on, but not the positive side of things that are happening."
William Johns is scheduled to come home from Iraq in June. In Vietnam we would have called him a short-timer. He is now one of the most knowledgeable of our countrymen on the situation in Iraq, at least in the areas where he has been assigned. He has joined a small, but elite group of troops who has more combat experience than any other group of veterans in our history, even surpassing the Vietnam Veterans who as a group had far surpassed the average WWII veteran for time in combat.
William's mom is a solid and vocal supporter for her son, the children of all Americans who are fighting to keep us free, and our government. She gets some attention from the media, far more than William, but far less than Cindy Sheehan.
Yet Deborah Johns is truly representative of the families whose children are fighting for us, who believe in the cause, and our ability to win. William holds far more knowledge about the situation in Iraq, from a first-hand standpoint, than virtually any of the people in Congress who are toying with and manipulating his life even as he secures theirs.
But don't expect the media to contact or interview him. They probably wouldn't like what he has to say. And there are some who still say the media doesn't have an agenda.
Thursday, March 29, 2007