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The soldier — not the hippie — defined a generation

November 12, 2010

Members of the Jefferson County Veterans’ Honor Guard present the colors during Big Run VFW Post 9044’s annual Veterans’ Day observance Thursday. (Photo by Tom Chapin/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

BIG RUN — If you think Woodstock defined a generation, think again, according to Marine Capt. James H. Hales Jr. (Ret.), who was the guest speaker during VFW Post 9044’s annual Veterans’ Day observance Thursday.

Hales said Woodstock was a division — not a definition — of a generation. While young people were singing, swaying, using illicit drugs and making love in the rolling hills of New York State, the same day,
“Other young people were serving their nation, consistent with loyalty, humanity and honor” in Vietnam.

These days, if you place people from the two different groups — those at Woodstock and those in Vietnam — in the same room to discuss the events of 1967 and 1968, “You’ll see the walls get built, a clash of ideals, ideologies, lives, philosophies and life experiences,” Hales said.

“Don’t tell me that Woodstock defined a generation,” he said. “They are my generation, and were as any that came before them.”

Hales — a past state commander of the American Legion — also said according to actor, writer and political commentator Ben Stein, the real stars in a society obsessed with celebrities are U.S. soldiers protecting America’s freedom to be obsessed with celebrities.

Hales said U.S. President Calvin Coolidge — “called Silent Cal, because he didn’t have much to say,” he said — was not silent but profound in saying, “A nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”

Hales said while Americans must support the families of the fallen, they should also support the families of those who are still out there fighting.

“True appreciation is expressed through deeds, not words,” Hales said, while a simple “thank-you” to someone who has served should not be underestimated, either.

He said there are 23 million Americans who have earned the title “veteran,” and that includes those still serving. He also said special attention should be paid to the needs of female veterans, including health and social issues.

“There are 1.2 million women veterans, and they deserve our support,” Hales said.

He also addressed issues of homelessness among veterans. Of the entire homeless population in the United States, 23 percent are veterans, and 89 percent of homeless veterans were discharged from their respective service branches honorably.

Of homeless veterans, 47 percent are veterans of Vietnam, Hales said.

In spite of the sacrifices they have made, an overwhelming majority of veterans are proud that they served, he said.

In closing, Hales quoted 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”

Post 9044 Commander Jim Pallone said Veterans’ Day observances are keeping in stride with words Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural speech: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

He said veterans are everyday people who have served in extraordinary ways, and have made sacrifices beyond duty’s call.

The post also recognized two local students for successful essay they submitted through the post.

Keaton Mohney, a junior, took first place for her audio essay, “Does My Generation Have a Role in America’s Future,” while her sister, Kaston Mohney, took first in the Patriot’s Pen Contest with “Does Patriotism Still Matter.”

The girls — the daughter of Keith and Barb Mohney — each received $100 U.S. Savings Bonds, and their essays move forward to the district level.

The master of ceremonies Thursday was Big Run Mayor Joseph Buterbaugh, while Nick Voris, Milea Schall, Barb Stookey Keller, Cindy Reynolds and Rich Keller offered musical selections.

Jena Pallone and Merica Pallone also offered readings, while the Big Run Boy Scouts and the Jefferson County Veterans’ Honor Guard presented and retired the colors.

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