President John F. Kennedy once was asked how he became a war hero. “It was easy. They sank my boat,” the former World War II PT boat skipper said, illustrating a greater truth about veterans.
They wear their service proudly, but with a humility and humanity.
We ask so much of military members, and there are so many of them: 21 million veterans nationally and 1.9 million in California.
Veterans know they have their comrades-in-arms, but they also need to need to know that the American people back them, too, particularly when they return home. We too often have failed our veterans.
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Too often, they have been ill-served by the Department of Veterans Affairs, waiting too long for care that is lacking. The Obama administration is playing catch-up on this.
Younger veterans require more complicated care. Field medicine is far more effective than it has been in past wars and people who might have died in battle are rescued, only to face a lifetime of struggle with serious wounds, seen and unseen. More than 300,000 veterans are homeless each night, a national disgrace.
How do we thank those men and women who protect the American people daily, and who have been grievously wounded or lost forever?
We can thank them by keeping intact the ideals for which veterans fought. We can thank veterans by registering to vote and casting ballots. Voting is the most eloquent of tributes, yet it’s a duty too many of us find to be inconvenient or unimportant.
Voters owe our military the wisest elected officials we can select, because those leaders decide whether to engage in war. We don’t take that responsibility seriously enough.
We can thank them by giving the best possible care and not subjecting them to political maneuvering when they ask for it.
We can thank them by not cheapening their service with unseemly business deals such as the Defense Department’s “pay for patriotism” marketing arrangements with the NFL and other sports leagues, as a report issued by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona revealed this week.
As we thank our brave veterans who have sacrificed so much today, let’s not just let it be a daylong observance. Let’s put our collective will behind making sure they are thanked each day we enjoy freedom in the United States.