Today, C-I Feature Writer Salley McInerney brings us a story unlike most we have run on our front page. It’s not merely that it’s not the light-hearted, very entertaining fare we’ve come to expect from McInerney. Today’s nearly magazine-length story is an extremely tough one, reminding us -- graphically -- of the ordeals American prisoners of war (POWs) have endured.
Returning POWs from any conflict are living reminders of the hard truth of war: It is hell. If you have not fought in military combat, you will not understand. That goes a hundred fold if you’ve never been captured by the enemy and subjected to humiliating conditions and torture, both physical and emotional. Indeed, they cannot be separated.
As Darlene Kiba, the wife of the subject of McInerney’s story, Steve Kiba, put it: “I know his story, but I do not know his story, if you undertand what I mean. I hear the words, but I haven’t lived the words.”
May you never have to.
Kiba wrote his story in a book titled The Flag -- My Story: Kidnapped in Red China. McInerney includes passages from Kiba’s book in the article. For anyone who has read James Clavell’s King Rat, the author’s semi-autobiographical novel of being captured by the Japanese during World War II, the imagery is similar. The difference is not just that Kiba endured his particular hell during and after the Korean War, but that Kiba describes what happened to him without even the slight window dressing of fiction Clavell used.
Furthermore, Kiba’s story touches on another, often forgotten aspect of war: those who never made it back, and -- as he makes perfectly clear -- in some cases left behind by the very country for which they were fighting.
What is so important here is telling that hard truth of war from WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and other conflicts is necessary. We must not turn away, no matter how queasy, distasteful or horrifying the imagery.
Because it is the only way to honor the sacrifices endured by these most precious veterans.
And think of this: nearly all WWII veterans are gone now. Kiba, a Korean War POW, is 87. The Vietnam War ended in 1975, nearly 40 years ago.
These conflicts are fading, especially with the now decades-long “war on terrorism” that may never end, with its own set of long-term effects on active duty and recent veterans.
We need stories like Kiba’s to remind us of what our veterans have sacrificed for us -- and to never again leave anyone behind.