Schieffer: The Real Cost of War

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I was in an airport lounge the other day when I saw a woman across the way. Why I kept staring I don't know. Maybe it was just that she seemed so sad.

And then I understood. And I looked away, hoping she had not seen me stare.

Because in her lap was an American flag, neatly folded into a triangle and placed in a clear plastic case - a flag folded the way it always is when it is given to a soldier's family as the soldier's coffin is lowered into the grave.

I figured her to be a soldier's mother, and I couldn't help but wonder what memories that flag evoked as she held it there.

Did it remind her of the first time she had seen her child in the delivery room, or was it the memory of seeing him go off to school that first day, or when he brought home the prize from the science fair, or maybe made the touchdown, or gave her the first Valentine when he wrote out "Mommy, I love you."

I keep thinking about all the talk in Washington about the high cost of defense and how we have to cut the Pentagon budget before it bankrupts the country.

But as I watched that woman, budgets seemed to be such a small part of all of it.

No, the real cost of war is not what we pay in dollars and cents.

The real cost is what we take from a mother who is left with just a memory - and a neatly-folded flag in a clear plastic case.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.