January 14, 2005

Speakout: Orphans of Iraq war are not alone
By Patricia Gaffney-Kindig

As one who lost a father to war more than 60 years ago, I was distressed by Lisa Hoffman and Annette Rainville's Jan. 10 Scripps Howard News Service article in the Rocky Mountain News, "Nearly 900 lose a parent," regarding the terrible price paid by the surviving family members of servicemen and women who have died in Iraq.

It is painful to read that so many more children have joined the ranks of war orphans. This is the same ache I felt as I witnessed the events of 9/11 - knowing there were children whose lives would be changed forever. This pain goes deep into my heart; my father, a fighter pilot, went missing in 1944 in New Guinea, three months before I was born.

However, it also disturbs me to read comments such as "This is a new state of affairs we have to confront," attributed to Charles Moskos, a "leading military sociologist" and Northwestern University professor.

He should know better. Information to the contrary is readily available and if one gives it just a moment's thought, common sense says that American children orphaned by war is emphatically not an unprecedented phenomenon.

In fact, children have been left to cry since man came out of his cave, wielding clubs, through countless wars, throughout history. The only new aspect of the current tragedy is that now we have mothers serving and dying in the military.

During World War II, fathers became eligible for the draft in late 1943. Nearly 1 million of the 16 million who served were fathers.

Moskos states, "Although comparable specific historical data is not available . . ."

Again, comparable information is available: Approximately 407,000 men were killed or declared missing in action (78,000 remain in the latter category) in World War II, and according to Veterans Affairs data, nearly 200,000 American children were left fatherless and receiving benefits as a result of the war.

Then there are the children of the dead from Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and so on.

Regarding the need for programs for war orphans in addition to the veterans, Moskos states, "This is the first time we have crossed this threshold." Not true, but the issue is not how many children have been orphaned but how our government that sent their parent into harm's way, will care for them.

We, the orphans of World War II, received monthly benefits up to age 18 and the War Orphans Education Assistance Act of 1956 - truly inspired legislation by Congress - provided funds for 36 months of college or other training.

We called it "our" G.I. Bill. For more information about benefits that have been available to veterans, widows and war orphans, see: http://www.gibill.va.gov

The "greatest generation" did not talk about the war. Many widows did not talk about their dead husbands leaving the orphans of my generation to fall behind what we call the "wall of silence."

The American WWII Orphans Network (www.awon.org) offers acknowledgment, emotional support, assistance in researching military records and finding answers for members. Then the healing begins . . . 60 years later.

Sons and Daughters in Touch (www.sdit.org) is an organization that provides support for the children of men who died in Vietnam.

We who have "been there" encourage our government to provide for the emotional needs of the new orphans as well as their material ones. They have a heavy burden to carry in their young hearts.

Patricia Gaffney-Kindig is president of the American WWII Orphans Network board of directors and is the daughter of 2nd Lt. George P. Gaffney Jr. She is a resident of Lakewood.


In Memory of 2LT George Philip Gaffney, Jr., KIA 11 March 1944 in New Guinea