Growing up in the 1960’s listening to the refrain of “Where have the young men gone,” I too wonder where many of my friends and comrades in arms have gone. Unfortunately, as the song indicates too many have “Gone to graveyards, everyone.” Sadly, since then over 50,000 men and women died in Vietnam with many veterans still struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); we experienced over 1,000 deaths in Operation Desert Storm; and more than 2,500 American deaths and countless injuries have occurred in Afghanistan in the debacle formerly known as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

In all of these conflicts many young American men and women willingly served and without question followed our political leadership only to have politicians without any skin in the game cut and run when the going got tough. In addition, these prolonged foreign conflicts were initiated on either deliberately false or contrived information provided by political sycophants.

We now know the Tonkin Gulf “incident” was the pretext for our prolonged and disastrous involvement in Vietnam. A senseless war where the United States supported a corrupt and illegitimate regime of which many service members still bear deep emotional and physical scars. The infamous Pentagon Papers revealed that Lyndon Johnson had ordered the drafting of the resolution months before the alleged incident occurred. In addition, Ho Chi Minh looked to the United States as an ally to expel the French, but we foolishly spurned him only to have him defeat us years later.

George Tenant’s “slam dunk” of weapons of mass destruction was used to justify our invasion of Iraq which led to the rise of ISIS Caliphate in the Middle East. At the end of the day there were no weapons of mass destruction — thousands of civilian and military lives were needlessly squandered.

While we will debate how the War in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan was mis-managed, one thing remains crystal clear: The bravery and sacrifice of our American troops in the face of adversity is a constant reminder of who we are as a nation. Their selfless and unquestioned sacrifices represent the very best of this country. Regardless of your thoughts on politics or war those in uniform deserve your heartfelt appreciation and gratitude. For many it has not been an easy road to follow.

In addition, those in both civilian and military positions of leadership responsible for the current debacle should be held accountable for their inability to lead and myopic strategic vision. Many military commanders in Afghanistan are now reaping the rewards for their post uniformed service as members of the board of large defense corporations while those in the trenches who bore the brunt of the fight struggle to make it to the next day.

Yes, in the words of Peter, Paul, and Mary when will we ever learn — the graveyards are full.

James R. Poplar III, of Quicksburg, proudly served with the U.S. government for over 40 years. He specialized in national security affairs at both Vanderbilt and the National Defense University.