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Veterans Day Thoughts

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About 20 years ago, I saw a political cartoon in which a young girl is sitting on the grass next to her dad watching a parade. She asks him, “ What are veterans, Daddy?” Her Dad responds, “Common folk, honey.” She then asks: “What made them into veterans?” He answers: “Uncommon acts.”

As a young boy growing up in post World War II Boston, my memories of Veterans Day consist primarily of watching old men marching out from in front of the local VFW Hall to lay floral wreaths and American flags at existing memorial sites, and then marching on to name and dedicate other street corners to honor a soldier from the neighborhood who had given the last full measure for America. Even as a kid I was impressed with both the seriousness and pride etched in faces of those old soldiers. But I also vividly recall the sadness and pride in the faces of the families of the fallen but not forgotten soldiers who would remain forever young in the family’s photo album.

Now as a Vietnam veteran, I will be marching today in my town’s dedication ceremonies with the same seriousness and pride as one of those old soldiers I viewed as a young boy. By my side will be both older vets and, now, our country’s young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Although each of us will carry our own private reflections on this day, all veterans, both here in my small Massachusetts town and across the nation, will be thinking about our brothers and sisters in arms—those who sadly will remain forever 19 and those who have come home from war changed, but proud to have helped defend America and their fellow citizens.

I was deeply pleased and proud when I heard President Obama announce that all our soldiers would be leaving Iraq by the end of this year. Commander-in-chief Obama has fulfilled his ’08 campaign promise to the nation to bring our troops home from Iraq. My profound pride comes from the bravery and professionalism that our young men and women have displayed over the course of this long and costly war. But “coming home,” all the way home, for these troops and their families will entail much more than a few parades after stepping off a plane at a United States military installation. These veterans and their families, along with their almost 2 million fellow Iraq and Afghanistan comrades, will need a good deal of support from our government and from a grateful nation.

Because today’s higher unemployment rate among veterans is having such a debilitative impact upon our returning heroes and their families, it is imperative that Congress do the right thing for our veterans and their families and pass the President’s jobs bill. Certainly, at the very least, the Republican-controlled House and their Republican Senate colleagues should put our veterans’ needs over their party’s politics and vote for the Veterans’ Component of the jobs bill. Veterans have served and courageously sacrificed for America; certainly our congressional representatives should have the courage and conviction to do the right thing by these brave men and women.