It is one of the great lessons America has learned from Vietnam. Separate the war from the warrior.
The war in Iraq should never have been fought. Its execution over the first five endless years was botched by the Bush administration. Only in the final three years — yes, starting with Bush’s controversial surge — was a reasonable plan in place to fight this war and give Iraq some hope for stability. President Barack Obama earns sincere praise for forging a path to an honorable exit.
But despite this enormous political baggage, and certainly there will be readers who disagree with our assessment of the war, Forest Park stood proud last Thursday as it welcomed home the first troops returning from Iraq since Obama ended direct combat.
Our village pulled out all the stops in mounting a welcome home that will be long remembered by everyone who played a role.
The troops, stationed at the reserve center on Roosevelt Road, will remember the ovation stirred by Forest Parkers and others at O’Hare airport, the motorcade down Madison Street with shopkeepers waving a welcome, the crowd gathered at the Park to honor them for their service.
Family members will remember both the intimate moments of reconnecting and the affirming public acknowledgements of the sacrifice and service performed by both the service men and women but also by the families left at home.
We know our middle schoolers will remember being sprung from school early to attend the celebration at the Park. We believe though that they will carry forward with them the sense of history at what they witnessed: the reality of war fought by real people, the powerful draw of family, the sense of community that their hometown mustered in honor of devoted service.
We offer our thanks for local officials – village, park district, business community, schools – who understood the possibilities in this moment, made a bold plan and carried it off with style and enthusiasm. Mayor Anthony Calderone summed it up well: “I think we took them by surprise and showed them a good old fashioned Forest Park welcome.”