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A Valuable One Percent

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Recently I had occasion to spend seven quality hours in and around concourse ‘B’ at the Denver Airport.  There were two separate high points during that sojourn. The first was a leisurely, two-hour lunch—no need to rush—at ‘Elway’s Restaurant.’ The second occurrence was much briefer but more memorable. 

We were killing time around the concourse when a young man approached us with his hand extended. He was dark haired and slender with a big smile on his face. It is a sad commentary on contemporary American life that my first reaction was suspicion and a little paranoia. I fully expected him to say, “Have you heard the Word?” 

Then he said, “I want to shake your hand Chief.” I had completely forgotten that I was wearing the NWU (Navy Working Uniform) cap I had purchased in Florida last year. Turns out the young man was three years into his first hitch. He thanked me for my service and I thanked him for his. 

The encounter was brief but made an impression on me. I’ve been retired from the Navy for almost 34 years—13 years longer than I served. I’ve seen revolutionary changes in the very structure of our military and I’ve seen that military become an almost invisible subculture within America. 

Adding together all the currently serving men and women in our armed forces and all surviving veterans from all our wars, the total number would represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Most Americans don’t even have a family member in the military. Our active duty service members predominantly live in enclaves close to operational bases scattered around the world. 

This ‘All Volunteer’ military is unique. From the very beginning our warriors have been our relatives, neighbors and friends. The men of entire communities marched off to defend our nation starting with Concord and Lexington. This tradition continued through the years. The big changes came after Vietnam. The national mood was such that to all intents and purposes, the Selective Service System ended. As a nation, we shifted to volunteers to defend us.

The overall result of this is “out of sight, out of mind.” We, as a nation, don’t think much about the small number who keep us safe from our nation’s adversaries. The average American spends his life paying no attention to the concerns of our military personnel or their families. We have a small segment of our population that bears the awesome responsibility of defending the other 99-plus percent. 

Most Americans only become aware of our military personnel when tragedies take place, such as occurred at Fort Hood, Texas recently. After incidents like that the average American’s reaction is to shake their head and move on to the box scores of some sporting event. It’s the military’s problem, not theirs. That attitude is wrong. We elect leaders who set our national priorities and those priorities have tended to ignore our veterans and our active duty men and women for far too long.

The fact that many of these warriors are eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a sad commentary on the priorities of our elected leaders.  The fact that inadequate resources are dedicated to the support of our military personnel and the veterans of our conflicts is unconscionable. The rationale given by these leaders is that we can’t afford the high cost of the benefits we promised those men and women. But we say we can afford all the military hardware sold by the contractors. That is ludicrous on its face. 

We must honor the commitments we made to these men and women regardless of the monetary pain it may cause. All those who benefit from the sacrifices made in their name should recognize this fact and ‘nan up!’ I’m tired of listening to members of Congress fomenting military incursions in all corners of the world but refusing to authorize a dime for the needs of our veterans. It is way past time to make some changes in our national priorities.

On the local front we have a “Stand Down” scheduled for Bonner County on Saturday, June 14 at the Fairgrounds. Quoting Bob Rutherford, “As you already know, the Stand Down serves a very important role in helping needy veterans in North Idaho. None of these veterans made a conscious decision to become needy; and, as bona fide war veterans we know better than anyone that NOBODY GETS LEFT BEHIND, EVER.” Anyone interested in volunteering for set-up prior to that date, or in any other way should contact Bob at 255-2650.

In the ongoing effort to bring all our fallen home the Defense POW/MIA Office announced earlier last month that the remains of two more Americans unaccounted for since World War II have been identified. They are:

• Army Pfc. William T. Carneal, 24, of Paducah, Ky., who will be buried April 25 in his hometown. In mid-June 1944, the 27th Infantry Division landed on Saipan as part of the Allied strategic goal of securing the Marina Islands. Carneal was reported killed in action on July 7, 1944. 

• U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Verne L. Gibb, 22, of Topeka, Kan., will be buried April 23 in Leavenworth, Kan. On Oct. 23, 1945, Gibb was piloting a C-47B Skytrain on a routine cargo mission from Burma to India. The aircraft, along with three other crew and two passengers, was never seen again. 

Now I’ll make my pitch for people to come and ‘Shake Their Cans’ on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26. We’ve been doing this for several years now. Every penny raised goes to support local veterans. Most of the funds raised go to provide the DAV van services that transports area vets to their appointments at the Spokane VA Medical Center. Call me at 208 265 0950 or email vintage40(at)frontier.com if you want to volunteer.

In closing I’d like to encourage action on two fronts: 

One: That EVERYONE get out and vote in the upcoming primary elections. It can’t be a participatory democracy if everyone doesn’t participate. After all if we don’t participate we have no grounds for complaining about who’s in office in January.

Two: That all veterans get behind Senate Bill S1982 titled the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. This bill is the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation to be introduced in decades. Call, write or email your Senators and tell them to support Senate bill- S1982.

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

Tagged as:

service, Veterans News, SB S-1982, Memorial Day Fundraiser, Verne L Gibb, William T Carneal, Stand Down

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