South Lakes honored one of its own Friday morning. With the brother of a former presidential candidate and the real-life inspiration for a Robin Williams' movie character on hand, the Reston high school capped off a week of Veteran's Day events with a plaque dedication for David L. Williams. Williams was a 1987 graduate of South Lakes and a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy when he died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
With his widow, Sarah, a Yorktown High graduate, on hand for the ceremony, South Lakes principal Rely Rodriguez promised that her school would never forget the contributions of its fallen alumnus. "This plaque will hang in the hall for generations to come," she said. "We want to make sure they never forget that there is such a thing as heroism and love of country."
Adrian Cronauer, a Vietnam veteran loosely profiled in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam," and fellow veteran, Joe McCain, brother of the Arizona senator and former presidential candidate, spoke to hundreds of South Lakes students about the importance of patriotism, honor and the significance of America's war veterans. "We must let the next generation know why we fought and what values were worth fighting for," Cronauer said. "There is nothing wrong with being proud to be an American."
Sgt. Major Weldon Thompson, the JROTC instructor for South Lakes, said it was important for the school to teach its students about the sacrifices made by veterans. "This means a great deal and it means a lot to the vets on our staff," said Thompson, on his school's extensive Veteran's Day curriculum. "It reminds the students about the freedoms we have. It's important that they remember that their first-class education was not possible without a sacrifice."
<b>CRONAUER, WHO IS NOW</b> the special assistant to the director of the Department of Defense's POW/MIA office, said it was important to know what the government is doing for its citizens. "Other countries don't have the same respect for human life, they think we are obsessed with finding old bones," Cronauer said. "But we take care of our own and we will move heaven and earth to secure you from capture or to find your remains and return them for a proper burial."
Cronauer said there are more than 88,000 veterans still missing, 78,000 of them are from World War II, alone.
"This is so important for our kids to see and learn about" said Rodriguez. "Our veterans need our support, they are the reason we are here today. This is a living history lesson for our kids."
Cronauer, who looks and sounds nothing like Robin Williams, implored his young audience to look beyond Hollywood clichés about veterans, especially those from Vietnam. "During my tour, I went out in the field dozens of times and I never met a single murderer, baby killer or dope fiend," he said, alluding to the common Hollywood image of the Vietnam War. "Veterans are honorable men and women who are determined to do their job. Their stories are not being told enough."
The former U.S. Army disc jockey blamed the media elite, whom he called "retreads of the 1960s counterculture," for furthering the notion that Vietnam veterans are nothing more than "dysfunctional losers." "They are the backbones of our society," he said of the veterans.
<b>McCAIN TOLD</b> the assembled students that their generation would one day be "in charge of the world" and that, undoubtedly, they would have to decide whether or not to go to war. While he told students that war should always be a last resort, he said that if it comes to it, leaders must fight with one goal, and only one goal — victory. "I never met a career military man who wanted to go to war. Do everything you can do to avoid war," he warned. "But if that is unavoidable, the proper goal is to win."
McCain, who served on the U.S.S. Enterprise during the Vietnam War, said the U.S. fought in Vietnam under what he called "peculiar rules of conduct."
All too frequently, according to McCain, U.S. troops were not allowed to bomb North Vietnamese targets. "Can you imagine trying to beat the Japanese in World War II and not being able to bomb their islands?" he asked rhetorically, "How about trying to defeat Hitler's Germany without crossing the Rhineland."
McCain said he saw similarities in the cautious political moves during Vietnam and the actions taken by former President George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War. McCain told the audience that the U.S. should have ousted Saddam Hussein when they had a chance to take Baghdad during the Gulf War. "If we hadn't stopped that war," he said, "there's a good chance that we wouldn't be here today honoring Mrs. Williams' husband because much of what is going on now might have been prevented if we went in there back then."