Google the term “National Debt” and you will quickly receive the search results for millions of websites.
Most deal with the very serious issues of government overspending and the accumulation of more than two centuries of federal deficits. Yet very few bring up the biggest national debt of them all—that which America owes to her veterans. November 11, Veterans Day, marks the perfect opportunity for us to take an historical audit on just how much this nation owes her heroes.
Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer is one who America owes an enormous debt. Humble by nature, but heroic by deed, Meyer drove a humvee into an Afghan valley that he knew was heavily populated with well-armed enemy insurgents. Outgunned and outnumbered, Meyer and Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez made multiple trips to the hot zone, killing insurgents as Meyer manned the turret.
Disregarding serious shrapnel wounds that he received, Meyer left his vehicle several times searching for pinned down comrades and coalition forces. He found his comrades shot to death, but with the assistance of Army Capt. Will Swenson, Meyer carried their bodies and gear away from the village. As he received his well-deserved Medal of Honor from President Obama, Meyer requested that his fallen colleagues be remembered.
Our debt to these heroes can never be re-paid but our gratitude and respect must last forever.
For many veterans, our nation was important enough to endure long separations from their families, miss the births of their children, freeze in sub-zero temperatures, bake in wild jungles, lose limbs, and, far too often, lose their lives.
Military spouses have had to endure career interruptions, frequent changes of address, and a disproportionate share of parental responsibilities.
The children often had to endure changes in schools, separation from friends and, hardest of all, the uncertainty of whether or not Mom or Dad will live through their next combat mission.
As the leader of our nation’s largest veterans service organization, The American Legion, I recently had the opportunity to testify before a joint Congressional committee on Veterans Affairs. I reminded our lawmakers that it is not in the nature of America’s warriors to complain. Warriors endure. Warriors make do with less. Warriors finish the job, no matter how hard, no matter what is asked.
Warriors need advocates and that is why The American Legion exists. We are here to serve veterans, their families and our communities. Veterans need each other, but, more importantly, our country needs our veterans.
You cannot fight a war without warriors and while the utopian idea of a society without war is appealing, let us not forget that wars have liberated slaves, stopped genocide and toppled terrorists.
The American Legion shows its support for America’s heroes through its Family Support Network, Legacy Scholarship Fund, Operation Comfort Warriors, Temporary Financial Assistance and the National Emergency Fund, just to name a few of our programs. But you can show your support simply by saying “Thank you” to the next veteran you meet.
You can show your support by hiring a veteran in your workplace, visiting a VA hospital or donating to a veterans program. Companies should understand that it’s smart business to hire veterans, and when members of the Guard and Reserves deploy, it is America’s business to ensure that their civilian careers do not suffer.
Homelessness is another issue that affects veterans disproportionately. Too often today’s tattered citizen of the street was yesterday’s toast-of-the-town in a crisp uniform with rows of shining medals. This is hardly the “thanks of a grateful nation.”
We can do better. We must do better.
Fewer than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title “veteran.” And while the great military phrase “uncommon valor was a common virtue,” has been so often repeated that it risks becoming a cliché, it is no less true.
In 1789 George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country.”
We must ask ourselves as a nation, are we serving veterans even half as well as they have served us?
Fang A. Wong, a Vietnam War veteran of New Brunswick, N.J., is national commander of the 2.4-million member American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization. For more information, go to www.legion.org.