Afghanistan: America's Longest War

"People here are connected with each other," explains Linda West, who taught Mike high school history. "People here remember." They remember Craty Langston, who died in Okinawa in 1945, and Larry Robison, who died in Binh Dinh in 1969. Now they'll remember Mike Spann.

As a result, the war seems closer here. People who've never been there speak knowledgeably of Afghanistan, its frontier towns and fortresses, its obscure battles and warlords.

When there's another war death, says Ivie, Mike's comes back. It comes back when he sees Mike's granite memorial in the center of town, or the highway sign with his name or a car bearing one of the memorial decals Johnny printed up. It comes back when he sees the electronic sign outside City Hall: "Pray for Our Troops."

Still, people here do not agree on what's next in Afghanistan.

The U.S. should pull out, Weeks says. "It's time to start bringing people home," he says. "We've done about all we can do."

Linda West and her husband, Bill, who also taught Mike, worry about his legacy. Bill says, "I don't want to see that he gave his life for nothing …" His wife finishes his thought: "… but will the president get to the point where he says, 'We can't sustain this anymore'?"

Bardstown: A Distant War

People who were here in June 1969 remember what a distant war can do.

They remember how wives and parents went to bed praying not to dream, how they recoiled from the sound of a ringing phone or the sight of a military uniform.

How everyone seemed to be going to or coming from a funeral.

How lookouts at the edge of town waited for Army sedans bearing casualty notification teams.

"Sadness," the local Kentucky Standard reported, "spread over our community like a pall."

That was Bardstown after June 19, when the North Vietnamese attacked Firebase Tomahawk in South Vietnam, killing 10 soldiers of the Kentucky National Guard, five of them from C Battery in Bardstown. By early July, a total of seven Bardstown boys had died in the space of two weeks.

Today, Bardstown finds itself with not a single war death in Afghanistan or the war on terrorism. A town that was one of the most luckless in America four decades ago now puzzles at its good fortune.

Don Parrish, a survivor of Tomahawk, raps twice on the flat arm of an oak chair in his bookstore. His explanation is the same as everyone else's here: dumb luck.

Before 1968, when the Guard unit was unexpectedly called up, the Vietnam War "always seemed somewhere else," according to Tom Raisor's wife, Moneza. That's how Afghanistan seems now. If the war ended, would anyone notice? "I'm not sure they would," Parrish says. "There's a lot of apathy."

He says he doesn't hear much talk about Afghanistan, even now that U.S. forces are ready to advance on Kandahar. In contrast, he still thinks about Vietnam every day.

The wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam share length, and little else. In some ways, Vietnam is the more tangible presence.

This year, for instance, people were excited when Ronnie Hibbs, 66, finally got his Purple Heart medal for his wounds at Firebase Tomahawk.

No one bothered to file the paperwork in 1969, and Bardstown was too traumatized to notice.

When C Battery was sent to Iraq several years ago, Hibbs and other veterans of the unit turned out to say goodbye.

Hibbs says there seems to be little general interest in the fighting, though: "You just don't hear much about it. Then (during Vietnam), everyone knew someone who went over."

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...