Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Hallowed ground has heard enough of war

        The president picked the wrong place to deliver Monday night's connect-the-dots speech on attacking Iraq. Union Terminal is hallowed ground.

        In its 71 years, this art deco masterpiece has heard enough talk of war and seen enough of its aftermath.

        It's heard the whistle blow on departing troop trains and caught sight of arriving Army locomotives pulling boxcars stacked with coffins.

President Bush speaks in the rotunda at Union Terminal.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        To generations of Greater Cincinnatians, the terminal - now the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal - has been and always will be synonymous with going off to war.

        To me, the terminal is a place of pride, of working hard and serving your country.

        My grandfather used his carpenter's skills to help build the terminal's foundation during the Great Depression. That was a time when workers stayed on the job and did it right. They hammered and sawed, even after exposure to the elements made their hands bleed, to put food on the table.

        My dad and all of my uncles left from the terminal to fight in World War II. They joined tens of thousands of other troops from that war, as well as veterans of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, who marched across the terrazzo floor of the building's enormous rotunda.

        Under the dome ringed with Winold Reiss' murals of workers toiling to build America, many a soldier stopped to take one last look around. One last glimpse of home.

        Maybe at the same spot where President Bush spoke Monday night, some GI stopped to put his arms around his wife one more time. They shared a kiss goodbye. And a final “I love you.” Then off he went to war.

        She stayed behind. To work. To worry. To wonder. To pray for his safe return.

        In World War II, the soldiers in my family went off to war to fight two clear and present dangers, Germany and Japan.

        Now, the president wants this nation to wage a war with unclear dangers and an uncertain outcome against Saddam Hussein, a unmistakably evil foe and one of many bad guys in the world.

        The president is clear on what he wants to do. The people aren't.

        A recent Gallup Poll found only one-third of Americans favor going it alone if the United Nations takes a pass on waging war with Iraq.

        To make his case and increase his numbers, the president is making speeches, stumping for war, in cities like Cincinnati.

        To prepare for Monday's speech, an advance team spent the weekend at the terminal. The place swarmed with men and women wearing “visitor” badges and game faces.

        They whispered into headsets, cell phones and walkie-talkies. They checked on phone lines and checked out the gift shop's black light room as a command center for the president's TelePrompTer.

        The president's Monday night crowd was hand-picked. Invitation-only. Around 700.

        Neither my dad, nor any of my uncles were on hand. They're gone now, part of the vanishing Greatest Generation.

        Knowing these guys, if they were still around, they would have a word of advice for the President:


        At family gatherings these men never talked about what they did in the war. They didn't wear their veterans' status on their sleeves. Or their medals on their chests.

        They talked instead about why they fought. They wanted this country to be free, to be better, to have leaders wise enough to keep us safe and at peace.

        They fought so their children could go to Union Terminal.

        But not go off to war.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at cradel@enquirer.com; 768-8379. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/radel


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