Richard E. Baylis lives in Oakdale.
My son, U.S. Army Spc. Matthew E. Baylis, was killed in action on May 31, 2007, in Baghdad, wounded by enemy small-arms fire. This heartbreaking experience motivates me to ask that President Barack Obama consider not sending more troops to Afghanistan at this time.
My concerns are not only those of a parent who has lost a child, but also of an uncle who needs better justification from the government for asking that other parents, including my sister, place their children in harm's way. In January my niece will deploy to Afghanistan, and I expect her brother, who has completed a tour in Iraq, to follow soon afterward.
The war in Afghanistan is not a war we can win, as proven by the deaths of thousands of soldiers from many nations who have fought there over the centuries. If the blood of our children is to mingle with the soil of Iraq and Afghanistan, it had better be for good cause and long-term meaning to these families and our nation. If we use the rationale that we must finish a bad war started by another president, history will show both presidents to have been wrong.
As a young soldier in 1970, I was willing to fight for my country because I was told that we needed to stop communism from spreading to the rest of the world and that we were the first line of defense. We all now realize that the South Vietnamese government was corrupt and virtually none of the citizens wanted us there, except for those who benefited financially from our occupation.
I see little difference today in Afghanistan. The government of President Hamid Karzai is corrupt, and a significant number of Afghans is willing to kill our soldiers because they consider them occupiers. The Taliban reinforces that thinking every day, in their own language, on their terms.
My son Matthew became interested in the military from an early age, influenced by the fact that our family, on both sides, has served in the U.S. military for nearly 200 years. His great-grandfather served in World War I, lived to be 95 and gave Matthew his prized military possessions passed down from his grandfather, such as Civil War swords, explaining as best he could to a 7-year-old the meaning behind these items. In our home we had hundreds of photographs of World War II, passed on by my father, Matthew's grandfather, who died weeks before Matthew was born from long-term complications of back injuries he had sustained in a plane explosion in that war and suffered with for 40 years.
Matthew and I often talked about some of my positive experiences in the Army, including being part of the 3rd Infantry Honor Guard and attending functions at the White House in my dress blues. What I did not tell him, however, was how one day I found myself in full combat gear with live ammo, surveying the White House lawn from the executive buildings, with orders to fire on Vietnam war protesters who attempted to climb the White House fence. I found out days later that family members of soldiers and members of our own families were among the protesters, and I might unknowingly have had to shoot at them. I hope the nation doesn't become that divided again.
On Sept. 11, 2001, my 14-year- old little boy made his decision to join the Army to fight for his country as soon as he graduated high school. I had mixed emotions about his quest for years. I had warned Matthew not to look at the Army as a glorified experience, but rather as a learning opportunity to enhance his life. I did not encourage him to join, but I did share my fears.
He had no doubts. His older brother, Marc, tried to change his mind by introducing him to the music world. Through Marc, Matthew became a good drummer, but he did not change his thinking about joining the Army. Matthew's mom, Laurie, did everything in her power to convince Matthew not to join, but supported his decision reluctantly.
I now face Matthew's loss every day and grieve as if I received the horrible news today. I will not try to persuade my sister's children that this war in Afghanistan is worth fighting or dying for.
I will do what I can to prevent their deployment by asking all Americans and the president to consider the value of our children and if their life is worth giving to Afghanistan.