The five Sullivan brothers, who died together when their ship was sunk in World War II, were from Iowa, not Nebraska, as we had it in yesterday's editorial, "Should Mothers Go to War?" (Published 2/15/91)
IS THAT the question to be answered, or is the issue broader than the military deployment of mothers? For Republican Sen. John Heinz and other members of Congress, concern is directed more toward the wisdom of a Pentagon assignment policy that places both parents or single parents of minor children in a theater of war. We think it is a valid concern.
What is not at issue is the role of women in the military or the assignment of women to combat units. Women have been serving with the armed forces overseas since World War II. Unlike the military establishment in the days of the WAVES, WACS and WAF, today's Pentagon doesn't waste time trying to find "suitable" duties for women. Female troops now are found arming attack planes, directing missiles, driving trucks and guarding supply depots.
The law is clear on women in combat too. They can't serve in combat units, but they do fill a number of combat-support slots. In the Persian Gulf theater, that is a distinction without much of a difference, since they are still directly in harm's way -- thanks to Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles and land mines. Those dangers come with the territory, however, and are risks accepted by all who enlist in an all-volunteer service or the reserves. Our concern, in this instance, runs more to those without a choice who also stand to lose dearly -- namely, the minor children of parents in imminent danger.
Today, children are being forced to live with the fear and reality that both their parents or the only parent they might have could be killed at war. That is a loss the government cannot restore, and one that these children should not have to sustain. Since World War II, the U.S. military has acted in several ways during wartime to show recognition of the family's enduring value in this country. During that war, and the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Department of Defense exempted a family's sole provider from the military draft. And since the wartime death of Nebraska's five Sullivan brothers on the same ship in 1942, family members have not been assigned to the same unit; furthermore, the sole survivor is removed from battle if the other siblings have been killed in combat.
Some of that spirit is evident in Operation Desert Storm troop deployment policies. If one parent is killed in the Persian Gulf, then the surviving spouse will be returned to the States. But as Republican Rep. Helen Bentley of Maryland, another critic of the policy, put it, "Obviously, this policy reflects the awareness that a child should at least have one parent. Then why not recognize that need up front -- and keep one parent in the States?" Sen. Heinz has sponsored legislation that restricts the assignment of single parents or both parents to the Persian Gulf theater of operations. The administration doesn't have to wait for Congress to act, however. A stroke of the pen at the Pentagon can make it happen.