I went to a funeral for a friend's father last week. Ed Suib, a longtime White Plains resident, was 88. I have known his son, Dan, for 32 years.
I vaguely knew Mr. Suib had been in the Navy during World War II, but not until his funeral did I, and many others in the synagogue that morning, learn that he had served in the first American wave at Iwo Jima. We learned of it only through an eloquent eulogist who had also served on Iwo Jima, some weeks after the initial invasion.
Ed Suib, just shy of his 21st birthday, was pinned down under Japanese fire for three days and nights in February 1945 on the island's black sand beach. "No human being should ever again be asked to do what we were asked to do on that beach," the eulogist recalled him once privately saying, vet to vet.
My own father doesn't talk about the war either anymore. He is 89 and the last survivor of his company in the 10th Mountain Division, which suffered some of the highest casualty rates in Europe. He was twice wounded by German mortar fire -- he still bears the scars -- but he calls himself lucky not to have been one of the troops "on those beaches." (And for the pretty Italian nurses he was able to flirt with in the army hospital.)
My father spoke to my older brother and me about his war experiences often in the 1960s when we were little. And then he stopped. Abruptly. I suppose, like Ed Suib, he didn't want to be defined by them. The war was not something to revisit; it was something to put as far behind you as possible in life. The only vestige of Italy 1945 in our household after that was something we children found howlingly unfair: No matter what the rules were in our cousins' or neighbors' homes, there would be no guns -- not even popguns -- in our house.
Other vestiges, I'm certain, live on within my father, and within him alone now.
Two public conversations prevail this Memorial Day. The first, not discussed enough, is how we're going to help returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan find work in a faltering economy. The second, discussed too much as far as I'm concerned, is over women gaining the "right" to serve officially in active combat units.
Women are physically, mentally and emotionally capable of serving just as effectively in combat as men. Female Russian soldiers at Stalingrad proved that. But how is it possible that 67 years after the Po Valley and Mount Suribachi we are talking about sending our daughters into slaughterhouses like that -- and calling it progress?
I get the whole feminist thing: Women in the military train as hard as men do. They deserve the same right to demonstrate their skills and to attain battlefield promotions.
But I can't help feeling that as a culture we will be extinguishing a deep part of our national conscience, indeed of our soul, if we allow this to happen. Yet, it seems inevitable because the purely intellectual arguments in favor of the change are sound.
We have all seen photographs of dead American boys on battlefields ranging from Antietam to Anzio to Al Anbar. They are difficult to view. But if they depicted dead girls, I submit, they would be unbearable.
Some things just aren't supposed to happen in life, and a society sending its young women into battle -- as official policy -- is one of them. All the intellectual arguments in the world cannot change that from being so. Call it pedestal chauvinism from my vantage point if you will, but women are supposed to be just a little bit better than men. God help us all if we let that precept slip away.
The hells of war do enough damage to our fathers as it is.
Bill O'Reilly is a corporate and political communications consultant who works on the Republican side of the aisle.