Saturday, August 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Remember these guys?

Remember these guys?

It's Memorial Day:

It was a day for remembering, a day for waving flags, bowing heads and playing Taps, clear and true, across the cemetery, where veterans and others gathered at the end of the parade route for a short memorial service.

Moore's husband Jim, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, usually walks in the parade, but he's fresh off a knee replacement so this year Grace Moore drove him.

As they made their way down Court Street, an elderly man in the crowd stood up and put his hand on his heart.

"I started crying," Moore said. "It was beautiful."

I saw there was something of a "debate" the other day over whether it's proper to refer to all the men and women of America's military as "heroes." I think it's kind of a silly debate -- only because we've allowed the word "hero" to be so trivialized in modern society, Honestly, I don't think there's one simple word that describes what these citizens contribute to America. They come from small, forgotten towns and the inner city, and they do what their leaders ask them to do, regardless of whether it's worthwhile or whether it's dumb. The overwhelming majority (I think it's disrespectful to pretend there aren't a few bad apples) not only do it without complaining, but with a level of honor and decency that should make all Americans proud of them.

I believe it's not only possible but totally appropriate to honor the remarkable character of America's smen and women who serve as one patriotically questions some of the missions they're sent on. And the biggest complaint I have on Veterans Day is that as a society we could do so much more.

My image of the V.A., formed while I was on active duty, was of an ineffective, uncaring institution. Tales circulated among my fellow Marines of its institutional indifference, and those impressions were confirmed when I left Iraq for home. At Camp Pendleton, Calif., a woman with a cold, unfeeling manner assembled us for a PowerPoint presentation and pointed us to brochures — nothing more, no welcoming sign of warmth or empathy for the jumble of emotions we were feeling. Her remoteness spoke volumes to me of what I might expect at home.

To regain veterans’ trust, the V.A. must change its organization and culture, not just hire more people. First, its leadership must be held accountable for employees’ behavior, and anyone caught entering misleading data should be fired. The agency must reach out, with public awareness campaigns and with warmth, to veterans who may be suffering in silence. It must help reduce the social stigma that attaches to the mental health issues the veterans face.

One hopes that when this mess they call the 2012 election is resolved, we'll emerge on the other side as a society that re-learns how to give back to those who have already given so much.

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Will Bunch
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