BIG RUN — As the U.S. citizens again thanked their men and women in uniform for defending America’s freedoms — sometimes paying the ultimate sacrifice — during Friday’s observance of Veterans’ Day, the guest speaker during Big Run VFW Post 9044’s annual event said Americans need to recall a promise they made a decade ago.
“A common thread we saw woven through countless stories in 2002 was of combat veterans of previous wars — especially Vietnam — reaching out with determination to young servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan,” said William H. Bowers, a U.S.
Army veteran having service in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Bowers said his summary of quotes from the first few years of the ongoing “war on terror” would be, “I will do everything I can to make sure these heroes get the welcome home so many didn’t get 30 to 35 years ago.”
During Vietnam, Americans failed to separate their feeling from the war from the soldier summoned to fight.
“We promised ourselves it would never happen again, but I’m sad to say that it is happening right now,” he said.
Last year saw the announcement of the end of combat operations in Iraq, Bowers said, which then led to a “complete media blackout for coverage in that country even as our brave men and women in uniform continue to fight, become injured and die there.”
Ten years ago, when the United States invaded Afghanis followed the al-Qaida-masterminded attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American began seeing stickers on vehicles reading “Support the troops” and “Remember 9/11.”
After a decade in Afghanistan, however, the stickers are beginning to fade, Bowers said.
“And as the stickers fade, so does our interest in what our men and women in uniform are enduring on our behalf,” he said.
Today, Americans express concern about economic growth and the nearly 10-percent unemployment rate, Bowers said. What they don’t express concern about is the more than 15 percent of young veterans who found themselves out of work last year, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Also, Americans discuss discontent over economic woes, but hear little of the discontent that combat fatigue that prompts 30 U.S. veterans to attempt suicide each day, Bowers said.
Today, America’s “aversion to inconvenience and willingness to forget the importance of military service, even as we supposedly remain a nation at war,” he said. “I say ‘supposedly because the question lingers: Are we ‘a nation at war?” We hear the label ‘warrior’ applied to a pitcher who hurls a no-hitter, and the term ‘hero’ used to describe trapped miners.”
Americans rarely discuss the real heroes, because as Bowers said, a small percentage of the nation serves or has ever served in uniform.
The United States must make renew its commitment to those who made a commitment to America, by ensuring that the VA has the proper resources; that veterans not wait years to receive their benefits when in need; and enforcing the law entitling veterans preference in employment, he said.
As the war is out-of-sight, out-of-mind to many Americans, so is the fact that they can forget those who are fighting on their behalf.
“As heartbreaking as it is to say, it sometimes feels as if we live less and less in the world that our parents and grandparents created for us,” Bowers said. “But this is the same nation, and I believe it is time that we started acting like it.”
Also during Friday’s service:
• Mayor Joseph Buterbaugh issued his Veterans’ Day proclamation, while Lt. Col. Francis Romeo offered his familiar monologue, “The National Flag,” with its first-person narration of sites, battles, wars and other events — good and bad — that have shaped America.
• Hannah Rummel, a soon-to-be-16-year-old sophomore at Punxsutawney Area High School, described visits in Europe as a part of the People-To-People Student Ambassador cultural exchange program, fir which Post 9044 offered some financial support.
After visits in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, Rummel’s group visits Normandy, France, where she described the crosses for those troops who stormed the beach in World War II as “amazing; a picture does not do it justice.”
She and some of the other students also placed a wreath at a memorial for Allied Forces at Normandy.
• The post also saluted students who took part in two of the VFW’s essay programs, Patriot’s Pen and the Voice of Democracy.
The overall winner in the Patriot’s Penn contest — open to students in grades six through eight — was Maggie Prutznal, while the runners-up were Kylee Lingenfelter and Mia Lingenfelter.
Also, Keaton Mohney was the post’s winner in the Voice of Democracy contest, while the runners-up were her sister, Kaston, and Anna Monyak.
• The post saluted the family of Glenn, Mindy and Mary Grose, which has picked up a post project of caring for the Old Cumberland Hill Cemetery — the resting place of eight Grand Army of the Republic veterans — that was abandoned years ago.
• In addition to Bowers, Romeo, Rummel and the contest winners, those also receiving certificates of appreciation from the post were the Jefferson County Veterans’ Honor Guard and Big Run Boys Scouts and Cub Scouts; the post Ladies’ Auxiliary; and those providing musical selections, Barb Stookey-Keller, Rich Keller, Nick Voris, Arlene Marie, Ken Felgar, Cindy Reynolds, Jan Seese and Dawn Smith.
• Post 9044’s next presentation will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, in commemoration of Pearl Harbor.