A number. The number of hours that a homicide case should be pretty much resolved by. The number of states that our country had for quite a while. The number painted on Jimmie Johnson's race car.
The number of military personnel from Riverside Ca. killed in southeast Asia during the Vietnam war.
I picked Vietnam for this little exercise as it is the first war that I have direct memory of. It is also probably the most controversial war in our nation's history. Regardless of the controversy, 48 men from my home town lost their lives in that foreign land, far away from family and friends.
I am sure some of them volunteered, either from a sense of moral obligation, to have a little more control over their lives than a draftee or just to get out of the house.
Others were drafted, forced into military service by their country. Many could have fled to Canada, but chose to tough it out, get whatever job they were assigned to do done and get home.
Still others were career military personnel. People who had determined that the mission, values and lifestyle were what they were meant to do.
The man with the lowest rank from my home town who was killed in Vietnam was a private in the Marine Corps. He was a draftee, and was killed by small arms fire near a place called Quang Nam. He was white, and was not married.
The highest ranking Riversider to be killed in Vietnam was a two-star general in the Air Force. He was killed in action when his RF4-C reconnaissance fighter was shot down near Da Nang. He was married, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics are all sadly represented on the list of the fallen. Sadness and tragedy seemed to be equal opportunity themes during this war. Ages ranged from nineteen to forty-nine, all premature deaths in my opinion.
I am sure that some of these men didn't spend a lot of their time in Riverside during their too-short lives, Just as I am sure there are others who lived in town at some time in their lives, but just didn't list Riverside as their home town when they signed their enlistment or induction papers.
The two biggest things that they all had in common, was that they thought enough of Riverside to consider it their home town and that they were killed before their time, in a place far away, while wearing the uniform of the armed forces of their country.
While I will never be able to accurately assess whether their loss "was worth it", I, and many others here in town are eternally grateful that others were willing to place it on the line. Whether for us, for their country or their comrades, we owe the fallen a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay.
Not only the fallen from the Vietnam war, but all of the conflicts, small and large, that our nation has undertaken. Hopefully, someday, armed conflict will be obsolete, until then people will be lost. Hopefully as well, we will continue to mourn, to remember and to support the remaining.
Thanks for reading,
A grateful Schmoe