Editorial: Respect is due to all veterans who served
Whether in peacetime or war, military members deserve our thanks, ongoing support
Jimmy Thompson and J.T. Borders Jr. carry the wreath to honor veterans during a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11, 2016, at Rock Creek Veterans Park in Gainesville. - photo by Time file photo

This is an age when disappointment and outrage compete to dominate the daily headlines.

Each week, there is more news of violence and death from acts of terrorism. Entertainment icons are accused of being sexual predators. Conflicts rage between law enforcement and citizens. Right-wing protests, left-wing protests leave one side trying to shout down the other. Politicians are at odds with each other and many of those they serve, some violating their oaths, some just doing or saying stupid things.

In such turbulent times, is there still an institution and group of Americans we all can believe in?

There is, and we honor its members Saturday: veterans of the United States armed forces. Those who have worn, and still wear, the uniforms of our Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and special forces still represent the best of what the U.S. is and should be.

Which is why, amid debates about what monuments to honor or tear down, we can agree there isn’t enough granite in all of North Georgia to honor those who have served so bravely.

Last year, the intersection of McEver and Mundy Mill roads was dedicated and named for Army Cpl. Matthew Britten Phillips, a Hall County native killed in Afghanistan in 2008. And there is a move to name the Clermont post office for town native Lance Cpl. Zack T. Addington, a Marine killed in action in Vietnam in 1968 at age 19.

Those memorials to fallen soldiers are appropriate, but note that Veterans Day is set aside to honor all who have served, including those who still wear the uniform and all who have returned home to civilian life. That’s some 21 million living Americans, more than 600,000 in Georgia. Of those, about 6 million have served in the Gulf Wars over the last two decades, 6 million were in Vietnam and another 2.5 million now in their golden years served in Korea and in World War II. They represent three generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines who sacrificed their own lives and safety to protect their nation and its freedoms.

Millions more wore the uniform but were not in combat, either serving in supporting roles or between armed conflicts. They don’t get the same honors as those who faced hostile fire, but they still did their duty when called and were standing by in our defense if needed. Their service is just as vital to our security and they deserve equal respect.

Our citizen soldiers represent a cross-section of America, from all corners of the nation — city and country, all races, backgrounds and faiths. Most, though not all, come from middle-class and lower-income backgrounds. For many, the armed forces were the best way out of poverty, often providing the education, job skills and training they can take into the civilian workforce. The GI Bill, created in 1944, has been perhaps the most effective government entitlement program ever passed and continues to help steer veterans into successful careers.

But the nation still needs to address disparities in living conditions many of our veterans face. Some struggle to make ends meet and support their families despite their service. According to the National Veterans Foundation, some 1.5 million American veterans are living below the poverty line, and many are jobless or homeless. Considering what they gave up to protect this nation, we owe them more than that.

In addition, work continues to revamp Veterans Affairs and the health care and other services provided to military members. In recent years, administrative failures have led to unacceptably long wait times for many vets seeking medical care, resulting in deaths in some cases. 

Congress passed, and the president signed, a reform bill that streamlines the process for purging the VA of ineffective employees who haven’t fulfilled their duties in taking care of those who have more than performed theirs. Since then, hundreds of VA workers have been ousted.

It’s a start, but not near enough. Those who join the military and serve our nation’s interests at home or overseas give us more than we can ever give back, and we are obligated to return their dedication by providing the best equipment and training, pay, health care and support services government can offer, during and after their time in active service.

To mark Veterans Day, several schools in the area invited local veterans to come share their stories and interact with kids whose knowledge of war and the military generally come only from books and TV. It’s a good chance to personalize their experiences for a new generation so they can fully appreciate the effort each veteran has made to keep our schools, homes and communities free and safe. That appreciation will serve our young people well, whether they serve in uniform themselves some day or in the task they will inherit to select leaders that back our military personnel.

It’s never too early to build that foundation of respect for those who represent the best of America throughout the years. In an era of daily disappointment, they are the ones who never let us down.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

Regional events