No such thing as ‘clo­sure’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - JOHN E. CAREY

To me, there is no such thing as “clo­sure.” There is only life and life’s cu­mu­la­tive ex­pe­ri­ences, both happy and sad. The se­cret of a good life is to seek and at­tain bal­ance. Don’t let the evil con­quer the good and don’t be­come “Goodie Two Shoes” ei­ther.

I have daily re­minders of the war in Viet­nam all around me. God’s Great­est Gift to me is Honglien Do. She came from Viet­nam “the hard way.”

She was on the run from the com­mu­nists, in and out of prison and in and out again for sev­eral years af­ter the com­mu­nists over­whelmed her coun­try in 1975. Some­times, cir­cum­stances forced her into hid­ing in her own house, like Anne Frank.

Lien’s brother Fong dis­ap­peared into the com­mu­nist prison sys­tem in 1975 and never came out. So Lien is the lucky one: She is here in the U.S.A. with us. The day af­ter Thanks- giv­ing, “Black Fri­day,” we went for cof­fee at the 7-Eleven at 4 a.m. Then Lien went to work. This Novem­ber, Lien voted for the first time in her life.

To es­cape com­mu­nist Viet­nam, my wife Lien and about 50 oth­ers spent 22 days in an open boat with­out food. The en­gine of the boat failed af­ter about the first hour at sea. The only fresh wa­ter avail­able to the drift­ing refugees was rain­wa­ter col­lected in lit­tle cups. Four peo­ple died in that boat be­fore it reached safety.

Af­ter reach­ing the Philip­pines, my wife, who by now was mixed into a horde of other Viet­namese refugees, wit­nessed the agents of the over­whelmed Philip­pine gov­ern­ment. The Philip­pine gov­ern­ment built small huts in a kind of “sta­lag” to house the refugees be­hind tightly guarded barbed wire. Lien lived on Palowan Is­land, the Philip­pines, for 10 years. Fifty or so peo­ple, men and women, young and old, lived to- gether in a room the size of your TV room or den.

Saigon fell and was re­named Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. My wife made it to safety in the United States in 1998.

On Nov. 30, at Ar­ling­ton Ceme­tery, our na­tion buried Col. Charles J. Scharf, United States Air Force. He was a pilot of an F-4 fighter over North Viet­nam when he was shot down in Oc­to­ber 1965. His widow, Pa­tri­cia Scharf, 72, of North­ern Vir­ginia, never re­mar­ried, never had chil­dren and still con­sid­ers the brave Air Force of­fi­cer the love of her life.

Col. Scharf was pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied by DNA th­ese 40 years af­ter his death. “What other na­tion would go to such lengths,” says my wife Lien. She doesn’t need any more proof that the United States is the great­est na­tion in the world. But she is con­stantly turn­ing over the ev­i­dence and show­ing it to me.

Be­sides the DNA, there are some relics of Col. Scharf and his life lost. Mrs. Scharf buried most of them on Nov. 30. The colonel’s singed iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card, with his name still de­ci­pher­able. His dog tags. His sil­ver cap­tain’s bars. (He was pro­moted posthu­mously to colonel.) And fi­nally his scapu­lar. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, only re­ally de­vout Catholic wear the scapu­lar. Col. Scharf was wear­ing his the day he died. It was a gift to him on his wed­ding day. His wife still wears the match­ing cloth re­li­gious pen­dant.

We’ll prob­a­bly go to Ar­ling­ton to­day to honor and re­mem­ber Col. Scharf and all the Amer­i­can men and women who died for us. Lien, de­spite her own tra­vails, feels very strongly a bond to the men and women who sac­ri­ficed and served in the at­tempt, the fu­tile at­tempt, to keep her coun­try from slip­ping into com­mu­nism.

This ties us in­ex­tri­ca­bly to the men and women serv­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan too. Each day we think of them and pray for them.

When Amer­ica puts its rep­u­ta­tion on the line, our brave young men and women go to war for us and many come home wounded or lost. And if we as a na­tion lose our nerve and give up our re­solve, hun­dreds of thou­sands and per­haps mil­lions of peo­ple find them­selves at risk, im­pris­oned, on death lists or killed. Trans­la­tors, driv­ers and the low­est who as­sisted the Amer­i­cans all be­come tar­gets, just as Lien did in Viet­nam. We hope this sad his­tory is not re­peated in Iraq. But we fear that it will be.

We thought the Amer­i­can peo­ple might want to think about in the days af­ter we buried Col. Charles J. Scharf, United States Air Force.

John E. Carey is the for­mer pres­i­dent of In­ter­na­tional De­fense Con­sul­tants Inc. and a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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