There is a notable and unacceptable convergence this Memorial Day: a flood of news about the commitment of American soldiers abroad and of news about the mistreatment of our soldiers once they come home. It is impossible to reconcile America’s decisions to send men and women abroad to fight so that fragile nations can find their footing in a free world against America’s own failure to care for its wounded.
This week, President Obama announced the welcome news that American soldiers would pull out of Afghanistan almost entirely by the end of the year, leaving behind a small force to train Afghan troops and assist in anti-terrorism measures. At the same time, hearings on Capital Hill exposed the mess at Veterans Health Administration and VA hospitals across the nation.
Veterans have come forward to document the deplorable medical care, overburdened staffs, arrogance and indifference at VA facilities: endlessly long waits, bad medical advice, basic mistreatment. The reports are so alarming it is beyond words, and for every American it should be deeply personal, as if a brother or sister has been mistreated, turned away, insulted, spurned, after we have asked of them the ultimate sacrifice.
The president¹s outrage was welcome. Now, we must see action and positive change. Even as he plans for an orderly withdrawal and a shrinking of our forces, he must put all his weight and resources behind rebuilding the VA system into what it should and must be.
The welfare of our soldiers should never be far from our thoughts. Memorial Day was established for precisely that purpose: so that we would never ever forget their immense sacrifices. It is scheduled. On the calendar. Never forget. That is a patriot’s duty.
The day was actually enacted to honor soldiers of the Civil War, and set on May 30, near the day of reunification. The day’s meaning was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action. The federal Memorial Day holiday this year was Monday, May 26. Most years, the federal holiday is not on May 30, but rather scheduled on the nearest Monday. Thankfully, many communities in Vermont steadfastly hold their services and ceremonies on May 30, traditionalists standing firm in the belief that a day honoring our war dead is diminished if it is shifted around for the convenience of a three-day weekend. Hail to those who stand firm in the traditional observance. It’s the patriot’s stand.
On patriotism, Mark Twain once perfectly said that it “is about supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” And, it should be added that Memorial Day is about supporting our soldiers all the time, at war, and once they return home with the wounds of war.
Here on the cusp of another summer, as we go about our daily lives and many of us muddle through our mundane concerns, Americans are stationed around the globe, standing watch, getting in harm’s way, teaching, and building — and believing we stand with them, that we have their backs, that we will take care of them, no matter what. They have made the ultimate pledge; our job is to ensure that everything they need is in place when they get back.
When President Harry Truman took office in April 1945, he inherited not only the White House but command of millions of American soldiers in Europe and the Far East. He had to make some impossibly difficult decisions during the war’s final months, including whether to use the atomic bomb. Truman knew first-hand what military service entailed, and he described it well: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
Let’s pledge to make sure of that on this Memorial Day.
— Biddle Duke, Stowe Reporter