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When Are You Too Old To Die For Your Grandchildren?

Article Overview:   How old do we have to be to die for our grandchildren?   Is there a time when we become exempt to our duty and responsibility to the future generations?  Some would have us think that a person age fifty doesn't deserve to fight and die for freedom and liberty.   What do you think?  


GROUND ZERO, New York, NY—July 18, 2004—At what age do we stop our willingness to die for what’s right for our Children’s Children’s Children, or, for that matter, anyone’s children and their Children’s Children’s Children?

            The New York Times reported today a series of stories about men age fifty plus who died fighting the war in Iraq.   The question posed in the story is whether these “older” men should be in combat.   Another way of putting it, “Is war for the young?”

            To date, of the 900 American deaths in Iraq, ten have been age fifty or older (a total of one percent 1% of all deaths).   Seven died non-combat deaths ranging from heart attacks to internal complications.  Of the 275,000 troops deployed or en route to the combat zones, 5,570 are fifty plus, about two percent (2%).

            The current ten age fifty-plus casualties leave behind eleven grandchildren and a combined twenty-one decades of marriage.

         Wife of 52-yr-old Master Sargent Thigpen who died of a heart attack after being called up   The question rattling through the Times story provoked the question of what anyone is willing to die for regardless of age.   Is there a time when a person can retire his or her beliefs fundamental to the liberty and freedoms we enjoy, and ignore any duty or responsibility to fight for them, even to the death?

            One of the main reasons given by the older men was that they felt a duty to go into combat because they had trained the younger men under their command.  To abandon them would be like a father shoving his son into the jaws of an angry, hungry bear so he could escape unscathed.

These grandfathers didn’t feed their kids to the bears.   Ten of them got eaten.  There are reasons the did that can’t be easily seen on the surface.  These reasons flow deep in the undercurrents of age’s duty and responsibility to the future.  


            One such reasons untold by the Times is the image the grandfathers embossed in the minds of their grandchildren’s grandchildren.

            Children reduce the complex to simplicity.   If grandpa went to war to help people be free so that kids in other parts of the world could enjoy the same things kids in America enjoy—the right to be anyone they want to be—then the reason for grandpa’s death is not necessarily a tragedy, but rather a legacy.  Grandpa becomes a Knight In Shining Armor, not a victim of ill-conceived, ill-planned and executed war driven by political and economic demons intent on conquering the world.

            Despite all the pundits today shooting holes in the reasons why we shouldn’t be in Iraq, history will one day paint a picture of our involvement there as an attempt to stop the progress of tyranny and oppression while other nations we once helped escape the claws of tyranny and oppression turned their backs.    The ten grandfathers who died in Iraq will be recorded as Grandfathers of Vigilance, men who died for the grandchildren of Iraq, as well as for the security of their own grandchildren.

            Grandpa becomes a Knight In Shining ArmorThis memory that will last in the minds of the children and their children’s children’s children who pass the Purple Heart and American flag grandpa got in Iraq on to the next generation.

            My grandfather fought in the Spanish American War.   I’ve always been proud to brag on his service, even if he was only a cook.   I remember him telling his tale tales about that time in his life, and looking at the faded pictures in his scrapbook.  I watched him proudly put on his VFW hat with all the little medals on it for all the service he had done and puff out his chest as though he were ready to charge San Juan Hill again.

            My Grandpa McPherron was a Sentinel of Vigilance.   His age didn’t matter.  What mattered was that he had been willing to fight and die in some foreign land for the freedom of others he didn’t even know.    In the purest sense, all of America’s wars have been fighting for the anonymous.I'm proud to have fought in Vietnam

            I have told my children many times how proud I am of fighting in Vietnam.  Despite all the critics of that war, then and now, I know that thousands of Vietnamese are free today because of what we did.   These Vietnamese live now in the United States, the second generation of refugees.  In 1990 the Vietnamese population was just over a half million.   In 2000 that doubled to 1.2 million.   Many Vietnamese hold high political offices at federal, state and local levels.  They own businesses, are wonderfully educated, and form a conduit back to their country feeding it the democratic principles that will one day overpower the grip communism has to control and dictate the  rights of many by the few. 


            The same is true in Iraq.   It may be a few generations from now, but the seeds of democracy have been planted.   Ten of those seeds belong to American warriors age fifty plus, men who died in the service of their country.  But, because of their age, these men ultimately died serving the Children’s Children’s Children of Iraq—those generations who will be the benefactors of liberty yet to unfold.   The older a man becomes, the more responsibility he feels to the future.  It’s called maturity.

            The question about the “age of dying” in defense of liberty and freedom seems totally unfair to even ask, for it supposes that we are all given some “limited responsibility” time frames in relation to protecting our fundamental rights or the rights of others.

            At what point does a grandfather stop telling his grandchildren to stand up for what is right, to fight for what is right, and stop promoting that the duty of anyone who enjoys freedom and liberty is to help others fight and defend theirs?

            If there is a time limit on our ability to stand up to tyranny and oppression because of our age, then when does that time and date arrives?   And when it does, should we all be “de-Constitutionalized?”  

The Constitution of the United States applies to us all from birth to death if we are native born Americans. New citizens are enjoined by it.   Part of the duty to our Constitution is to fight for our rights and the rights of others to be free.  If that duty to stand up for freedom here and afar depreciates with age, then so does our Constitutional rights.   When we no longer can fight for freedom—ours or anyone else’s--we have none.

            Fighting for freedom around the world has been the core of American foreign policy since we set foot in Europe in World War I and offered the lives of our young and old to defend the rights of others.

            Iraq is no different than any other war America has fought save one exception.  The Iraq war is in retaliation to the attack on America’s security, September 11, 2001.Pearl Harbor is the closest terror to Nine Eleven

            Unlike any other conflict (the closest parallel may be the attack on Pearl Harbor) no group of individuals had dared to assault American soil in modern times until September 11, 2001.

            I was there that day.  I saw the horror of 2,748 people killed in a senseless attack on the innocent, and, had the attack been a half hour or more later, it may have resulted in ten times those deaths.


            Iraq is a war on terrorism, a war on the Beast of Terror who spilled the blood of thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and then sang and danced in glee over their achievement.

           The grandfathers in Iraq who died, gave their lives protecting their grandchildren from the terrorist planning to kill more innocent Americans.   By fighting terrorism in Iraq, America validates its resolve to stand up for the rights of its most vulnerable citizens, the children.

            When grandfathers are willing to die to protect their grandchildren, and the grandchildren of the world, it’s not a travesty, but a legacy of Vigilance that should be honored and applauded rather than questioned.

            It was said once that a man does not know his own character until he is faced with the question of what he is willing to die for.   If the freedom of others and their children is the price of death, then it is worth the cost, for the generations that follow will remember that the ten grandpas who died in Iraq were Sentinels of Vigilance, and that each died a hero in their grandchildren’s grandchildren’s eyes.

June 16 Death's Ashes On Strollers

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