WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Maybe it's appropriate that Father's Day -- a secular holiday supported by Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and officially designated as the third Sunday in June by Lyndon Johnson -- is so close to Memorial Day. This year, both occasions were observed with tens of thousands of dads absent from their offspring -- because they are serving in our armed forces far from home, often in harm's way. Some of those children and dads have never met each other.
Today, Marine Corps recruiting ads would have the uninitiated believe that the only thing that matters is being a "warrior." And while that is certainly a crucial ingredient in being a Marine, there is another aspect that pervades all of the military services today -- concern for the families of those who are serving.
While I was covering the 5th Marines in Iraq for Fox News, a sergeant major approached me after a live broadcast and asked if one of his young corporals could use my satellite phone to call home. "His wife gave birth last night, and he wants to call so she and his new son can hear his voice," the grizzled veteran of two wars and many gunfights explained. I handed him the phone.
The young corporal's new son won't remember that phone call. But hopefully, in the midst of one of life's inevitable challenges, the Marine corporal and his wife will recall that all-too-brief conversation as evidence of a father's love for the son he wouldn't hold for months to come.
That's always a challenge for those in our armed forces -- reconciling the willingness to serve our country with the need to be a dad. Today, tens of thousands soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines who are fathers are serving overseas without their families. They serve in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Japan and the Balkans, and at sea around the world, defending this country from the threat of terrorism and offering others the hope of freedom. Many, like that young corporal, instead of helping mom, handing out cigars and buying every stuffed animal in the hospital gift shop, will be working 20-hour days and avoiding sniper fire when their child is born. For those fathers, the chance to hold their newborn will have to wait.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.