HILLSBOROUGH -- When Ted Triebel was training to fly F-4 Phantom jets for the Navy in 1965, he worried the Vietnam War would be over before he could get into combat.
After four deployments and months as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, he came home with a different feeling.
"The war lasted plenty long enough for me," he said.
Triebel found himself asking questions then that he is considering again this Memorial Day -- how the strategic decisions in war are made and what is gained from the sacrifices of troops losing their lives.
It's about taking time to look at our history, he said.
"I'm concerned that the nation as a whole doesn't pause to do that," Triebel, 66, added. "I want people to understand that we have good young people, men and women, who are dying."
Triebel will share some of his thoughts Monday at the American Legion post in Chapel Hill, which is observing Memorial Day in a big way this year.
The local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars teamed up with the local American Legion post to put on a four-day event both honoring those who have died in service to the United States as well as veterans and those who are serving.
They started Friday by placing more than 500 American flags on the graves of veterans at the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. They planned to have some veterans return Saturday and today to pay their respects and assist visiting families. But they are reserving most of their manpower for Monday, when they plan to host a daylong event that they expect to draw about 1,000 people.
"We're trying to think not so much about the veterans who have served long ago but about the people in the area who are serving now," said Lee Heavlin, a retired U.S. Navy master chief and now post commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9100.
Monday's festivities include tents set up by several veterans' groups, a Vietnam era helicopter, a canine demonstration by the Chapel Hill Police, a ladder and pumping demonstration by the Chapel Hill Fire Department, a display on women in the military, a quilting demonstration by a local chapter of Quilts of Valor and displays of military memorabilia. The veterans have secured John Morgan, better known as Squeaky the former hot dog vendor on Franklin Street, to distribute free hotdogs.
Heavlin, who is observing his second Memorial Day as post commander, said this type of attention to Memorial Day is new for his group. The VFW decorated graves last year on the actual Memorial Day, which didn't fall on a weekend. The American Legion didn't hold a ceremony at all, he said. He vowed he would do more this year. And on Thursday he seemed tickled with how it was coming together.
"I'm watching other people get more involved in the community. There are just a lot of veterans in the woodwork that have served proudly, but they're quiet," he said.
Heavlin said the VFW has been invigorated by six new members this year, and the American Legion by 20 new members.
Heavlin knew Triebel from their days working with Navy ROTC and asked him to speak.
Triebel didn't drop the Navy after he was released from North Vietnam. Instead, he went to the University of Washington to earn a master's in public policy, grappling with some of the questions he carried home from the Vietnam War. He later worked with ROTC programs at Carolina, Duke and N.C. State University and taught undergraduate and graduate classes in national and international security policy at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University. He is chair of the Orange County Board of Education.
Triebel's answer to why he stayed in the service is pragmatic.
"First of all, it's an honorable profession. Someone has to do it. Regrettably, we have to have a military and a defense," he said. "It's a dangerous world out there. Even in so-called peace time, it's a violent peace, so you do need a military."
"We need good people to go in the military. If we don't, we don't have a good national defense. It's a deterrent -- so these other groups say, 'Nuh-uh, we can see the strength there,' " he added.
Triebel is careful to say that although he questions the loss of so many young men and women in Iraq, he is not saying they died in vain. And their families deserve our gratitude and attention as well.
"It comes back to me. Memorial Day is bigger than memorializing and remembering those who died in our nation's wars," Triebel said. "We need to obviously remember and be thankful for those who did service to our country but the ripple goes way beyond -- to families, spouses, children."