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Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in Harm's Way, Then and Now

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

This Fourth of July celebration opens with news that more than 4,000 American Marines have poured into Afghanistan's Helmland River Valley in a surprise offensive aimed at securing the turbulent region in advance of national elections. This sudden and massive show of force may be the first of many given the reputation of the new commander on the ground, General Stanley McChrystal, but whether it is a one-time display of firepower or the first of many such deployments, it reminds us in advance of the Independence Day barbeques just exactly who we have to thank for our freedom --and it isn't the elected officials, unless by that we mean the Republicans and Democrats who have served in uniform like Senator James Webb (D-VA) and Congressmen John Kline (R-MN) and Duncan Hunter Jr.(R-CA).

Three recommendations for those of you interested in spending some of this long weekend thinking about why this country is so uniquely free and why it has been that way for so long.

First, consider a contribution to one of the many great organizations serving those who have been wounded in their service to the country. The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund is one such organization, as is Fisher House. There are many others. If you are buying beer and burgers this weekend, drop an internet donation equal to that amount in their coffers, and raise a glass to these incredible servants of freedom. And if you are anywhere near Pasadena on the Fourth stop by to run or walk in the J.P. Blecksmith 5K, honoring one of the citizen-warriors who sacrificed his life for the country.

Next, get smart about the war in Afghanistan. One civilian who has put a lot of effort into helping you do that is novelist Steven Pressfield, whose book on Alexander the Great's Afghanistan campaign took him deep into the history of the region, and who has now produced a series of five short videos --"It's The Tribes, Stupid"-- that provide a compelling introduction to the difficulties our troops face in this long and extraordinarily important war.

Finally, a new book on the Vietnam War by Richard Botkin, Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph, arrives in bookstores just as Americans watch our troops in Iraq pull back from cities and continue their gradual draw down from a currently stable Iraq. At the center of Botkin's book is a riveting account of North Vietnam's surprise 1972 push for total victory, The Easter Offensive. How a handful of American Marines working with naval and air power helped our ally turn back that assault is one of the greatest American military stories that very few civilians know.

Sadly the sacrifice and heroism of those men was forfeited a few years later as American abandoned its commitment to a free South Vietnam, and the era of brutal "reeducation" opened. Botkin's book follows the story of some of the Vietnamese Marines trained by the USMC as the communists wrecked their revenge on the south, and this story should be on the minds of everyone urging a rapid pull-out of troops from Iraq.

As our annual celebration of freedom opens, the country seems to be transfixed by the increasingly repulsive obsession with a pop star who was at best bizarre and almost certainly a serial pedophile. Michel Jackson's musical talent seems enough of an excuse for the cable networks to spend hundreds of hours of air time on his disturbing life and death. But as Mark Stein argued on my radio show this week, the MSM may be badly miscalculating the American appetite for endless coverage of the singer's "death by entourage."

The MSM's obsession with Jackson would be disturbing at any time of the year, but it is especially so now as American fighting men and women are so squarely in harm's way and when one is in fact missing and believed to be captured by the enemy in Afghanistan.

There isn't much you can do except turn off the television and instead turn to Pressfield's videos or Botkin's book, or perhaps just to conversation with friends and family that is unapologetically patriotic and which has as its priority this weekend the honoring of that which truly deserves the honor.

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