Northwest National Guard soldiers are coming home to local parades these days. Most are happening in small communities where they’re easier to organize. The soldiers need them. So do we.

But, if you’re old enough, you’ll remember when hundreds of thousands of service members came home from war and nobody … nobody … marched and waved flags. No marching bands. No “welcome home” from people you knew before you went to battle; people you thought you were fighting for.

I’m a Korean vet. No combat stars but that was luck of the draw. I was on active duty and could have been shipped off with many of my friends from those service days. They went. I didn’t. They must’ve had all the personnel clerks they needed at the front.

“It wasn’t a war,” we were told. “It was a police action.” Or it was called the “forgotten war” or the “unknown war.” By any name, damn it, it was a war! Our war! Dead: 36,516. Wounded: 92,134. Missing: 8176. POW: 7245. That’s no mere “action!”

TV covered it; usually 36-48 hours after battles being reported since film had to be flown stateside, developed, edited, then aired. It was in your living room. First war that was. From start to incomplete finish, everybody had access to the fighting. And the dying.

Still, when our military folks left that bloody political swamp to come home, they didn’t come back to crowds. No parades. They might’ve been met by a few relatives and friends. Or people who just happened to be at the dock or the airport that day. Hometown honors … if any … were few and sparsely attended.

A lot of people in those uniforms and at home were confused. America had never lost a war. And, while we didn’t lose that one, it didn’t seem over because we just followed orders and walked away. Many to this day have a sense of incompleteness or pain like a wound that won’t heal. Somebody in a large, fancy hotel decided politically the war was over. And it was. In Korea. But not inside.

We came home, tried to pick up where we had left off, and got on with new employment and families. There were very few local … much less national … honors.

Viet Nam was even worse. Dead: 58,236. Wounded: 153,452. Missing: 1746. But at least it was called what it was: a war.

Again, when the shooting stopped, it was just … over. Henry Kissinger and some guys in Paris signed some papers. No other reason. Another draw.

By the time the military got home, the nation was divided; people … for or against the cause … were tired, angry and ready to forget the whole thing. Parades, bands, fireworks in the park … not for most of them.

Korea and Viet Nam wars are still being fought in neighborhood bars, VFW and American Legion halls, at family gatherings and by some of the vets now homeless and living under a bridge somewhere. Those battles are alive today in the minds of hundreds of thousands. For some, they always will be.

And as they suffer, we are filling military hospitals and psych wards with new faces and new broken bodies and minds. I’m told many will eventually look normal. But normal life for them is over. No parades. No bands. For a lot of them, nothing.

Today’s wars, too, will end with a whimper and not an armistice. One day someone, somewhere, will sign some papers and those doing the fighting and the dying will be told … well … I don’t know what they’ll be told this time. But they’ll be marched to an airport to fly home. Just as happened the last two times.

The biggest difference now is the bulk of the fighting and dying is being done by reserves and guard members; not regular military services. And, instead of taking your turn, then being rotated home, these men and women are going twice, three and even four times. The next e-mail. The next letter. The next phone call. They could be gone again.

Walking or riding in a military parade is about all the thanks most of these people will ever get. Some bands. Some flag waving. Maybe a cheer now and then.

While you’re cheering from the curb at the next parade, look to your right and left at those standing with you. If someone has some gray hair, looks about the right age and seems a little wistful, encourage him to get off the curb and join the line of march.

It might be he’s due a parade. Overdue. And this might just be it.

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