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May 28, 2007

Service and Remembrance


Stephen Leonard's family has served in every war waged by this country, from the Revolutionary War to the war in Iraq. When he was growing up, his father, a WWII veteran, wanted Steve to consider serving in Vietnam. Steve wanted no part of it, and found it painful to disappoint his dad. 

But the lesson of their arguments, which lasted the better part of two years, was one of principle: it wasn't okay to say that he simply didn't want to go to war; he had to articulate why he didn't believe that the war was just.

Steve never served since the draft ended when he became eligible, but he and his father never talked about the war again. Years later, his father gave Steve a copy of Neil Sheehan's book about Vietnam, "A Bright Shining Lie," and inscribed it:

This story helps us to understand your opposition to our nation's Vietnam adventure when you had to register for the draft on 7-17-72. We hope it is interesting and useful to you.

Steve's father died in 1996. Shortly after, Steve inherited the family archives and discovered that his father had a brother who died in the Korean War the day before his tour of duty was to end. Steve never met his uncle, but seeing the correspondence between his uncle and dad helped him to understand their devotion to the ideals of honor, sacrifice and duty.

Stephen Leonard teaches political science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.



According to a Pentagon study, 177,930 children now have a parent serving overseas. Joshua Bertelson is 9 years old. His father, Bret, is an Army medic who has just been sent to Iraq for the second time. Joshua talks to Dick Gordon about how hard it is not having his dad around.

Whenever I look at something of my dad's, or I hear my dad's name, or I see a picture of him, it always makes me sad inside. I always ask [my mom] the same question: why does he have to leave? And usually she says, like: 'Because that's his job. That's what he does. If you just pray he usually will come home safe.'
-Joshua Bertelson

Their conversation also includes Joshua's mother, Cari, and this letter from Bret.

The interview brought to my attention just how aware Joshua is of the tragedies around the world. I realized just how fast he is being forced to mature mentally and emotionally, and I can only hope that my past, present, and future tours of duty do not haunt him in the future.

If I am lucky enough .. I may have 6 months at home before my next deployment. When I get home I hope to spend more one on one time with the young man waiting on me. 
Excerpt of Bret's letter to The Story

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