OPINION

Remember those who supported U.S. military in theaters of war

Rich Kiper
Rich Kiper

Since the creation of the Continental Army in 1775, the U.S. military has defended the United States and its interests. The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine have deployed around the globe. Many of those deployments were to war-torn countries. Some were to join with our allies to end tyranny and prevent weaker countries from being overrun. Some were on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. Many of those deployments were to places that few of us knew existed.

We even fought a war within the boundaries of our country.

We fought wars in which the U.S. and our allies gained clear-cut victories. We have had wars such as in Korea that helped South Korea remain a democratic republic.

Our national cemeteries and cemeteries in small towns across America are hallowed ground where men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion are laid to rest. 

Whether Army or Marine private, Navy or Coast Guard seaman apprentice, Airman basic or five star general, they all lie there together. 

Some were lost in combat. Some were lost at sea. Some are represented by headstones of those still missing in action. Many others chose to be buried in a military cemetery because they served our country and are entitled to lie there. Many lie there with their spouse. 

This Memorial Day column addresses another aspect of war. 

In previous wars we expected clear victories. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan changed that.

This Memorial Day, I ask that we also remember those who supported the U.S. military in those theaters of war, but have been denied entry to our country.

Probably most Vietnam veterans remember the mad scramble for safety on April 30, 1975. We could not get out all of those who had helped us. An estimated 300,000 former military officers, religious leaders and government workers were relegated to re-education camps with no trial and sentences of up to 18 years. Several years ago at a Vietnam conference at Fort Hays State University, I met a former Vietnamese soldier who had been imprisoned. He was one of 1.4 million Vietnamese refugees who have made our country their home.

An estimated 800,000 boat people reached safety, but 200,000 to 400,000 died at sea.

Veterans’ organizations have pleaded with both the Trump and Biden administrations to increase visas for Iraqis and Afghans who helped our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In February, President Biden issued an executive order to review the Special Immigrant Visa Program. In April, he ordered all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11.

He seems to have made the declaration without appreciating the status of those who had helped us or having a plan for how to process visa applications in such a short period of time. The visa process takes at least three years. It is a bureaucratic nightmare.

According to the Washington Examiner, at least 1,000 interpreters have been killed while awaiting visas. At least 18,000 interpreters and many thousand civilians are awaiting processing in Afghanistan. 

The Taliban have declared their intention to kill those who aided the Americans. 

Time is running out while interpreters and civilians fear for their lives and the lives of their families.

The Taliban are moving in while the U.S. is moving out.

Closing the U.S. embassy in Kabul because of the security situation will be a death knell for those who supported us. 

How many more times must we lament the deaths of those who trusted us?

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.