The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, Jan. 22:

In his inaugural address Tuesday, President Barack Obama summoned the memories of epic American fights for freedom, reciting battle sites that every school child knows: Concord. Gettysburg. Normandy. But he added one that has not ranked among those famous battles of the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War II.

“For us,” he said, “they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sanh.”

The siege of Khe Sanh, in the first months of 1968, was one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. It lasted 77 days and claimed about 200 American lives, according to official U.S. figures. Some accounts put the death toll much higher. The siege, and the Tet Offensive that started around the same time, helped turn American public opinion against the war.

Obama’s reference to Khe Sanh was brief, but it was probably noticed by millions of Americans – some who fought in the war, some who protested the war, and some who just remember that agonizing time in American history.

In listing Khe Sanh with three epic battles for American freedom, Obama as much as said: We’re past one generation’s long political divide over Vietnam. What we remember, what we honor, is the sacrifice of more than 58,000 American soldiers who died and tens of thousands who were wounded.

That was a nice touch in a fine speech summoning Americans to find courage for the days – and battles – ahead.

Perhaps Obama included that reference out of respect for the man he beat for the presidency, Sen. John McCain, whose resilience and courage as a Vietnam prisoner-of-war has inspired many Americans.

One sentence in one speech won’t lay to rest the lingering political divide over Vietnam. But did you notice that this campaign for president avoided the “what did you do during the Vietnam War” political harangues of recent campaigns?

There were no questions about draft dodging, which Bill Clinton faced in 1992. No questions, as Sen. John Kerry faced in 2004, about his service record on a swift boat and his protests against the war. No questions, as Dan Quayle faced in 1988 and George W. Bush faced in 2000, about whether joining the National Guard was a dodge.

Not that Vietnam was entirely absent. Republicans tried to make an issue of war protester William Ayers’ ties to Obama. But the issue was Ayers’ radical tactics, not his opposition to the war.

Maybe this is the reason that the politics of Vietnam was blessedly missing from the politics of campaign 2008:

McCain served with unquestioned distinction and has been a leader in achieving reconciliation both with Vietnam and within our own country.

Obama, like many voters, was too young to serve in that war or march in protest. For them, it’s all ancient history.

Whatever the reason, it was a relief.

Concord, Lexington, Normandy, Khe Sanh. We honor those who gave their lives.

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