Thank you to the American Legion Post #300 for inviting me to speak on behalf of the City of West Chicago and its citizens. It is my honor and privilege to express my deepest gratitude to all of our local veterans gathered here today, and those across the country or in remote places around the globe. Thank you for your service.
I’d like to take a moment to recognize any veteran here today. Please stand or raise your hand so we may acknowledge your sacrifice. Thank you for your service.
Now I’d like to ask anyone whose life has been affected by a veteran to stand or raise your hand. Thank you for your support of our veterans.
Today we are free to take time out from an otherwise ordinary, yet gloriously beautiful fall day, in this small Midwest town like so many others across our great nation, to honor these brave benefactors of freedom. Some of us have crossed paths with them unknowingly – at the supermarket, or the dry cleaners, in a restaurant – or on a train.
Such was the case for a train full of commuters bound for Paris this past summer. Airman First Class Spencer Stone, Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos and their longtime friend Anthony Sadler, seated unnoticed in a train car with ordinary citizens like you and me, stopped a terrorist attack by their courageous action. They could have run from the danger when a heavily armed gunman boarded the train. Instead, Specialist Skarlatos said, “Let’s go” as the men ran toward a future that could have easily meant instant death or maiming for them and all of the other innocent people within range.
Fortunately, this story is mostly remembered not for the horrific tragedy that nearly happened, but for the heroism that did. Even after enduring serious stab wounds that were inflicted as he disarmed the gunman, Airman Stone administered life-saving first aid to a passenger that was shot. The terrorist was carrying 270 rounds of ammunition. But because of the actions of these three young Americans, the death toll aboard the train was zero.
While some were calling this an amazing feat, right out of a Hollywood action movie or HBO series, the American Legion has stated in a published speech, it is not surprising, because this is the way America’s military men and women risk life and limb every day so that we can be free.
From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, there has always been a select group of Americans willing to fight and possibly die for a cause greater than their self-preservation. And while we set aside November 11th as a special day to honor and remember our veterans, we should continuously endeavor to serve our veterans as well as they have served their nation – with pride, purpose and enthusiasm.
We must honor all of their families, and not just with Blue and Gold Star Banners, but with compassionate hearts. PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and life-altering war wounds not only affect the veteran, but can also take an enormous toll on the family as well.
The American Legion, chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veteran’s organization focused on service to veterans, service members and communities, evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership swiftly grew to over 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at over 2.4 million in 14,000 posts worldwide. Over the years, the Legion has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans and produced many important programs for children and youth.
We must do our part too. It is tragic that the men and women who allow us to be safe in our homes are often without homes themselves when they no longer wear the uniform. According to the American Legion, one in four of America’s homeless population is a veteran. Nine out of ten were honorably discharged and nearly half served during the Vietnam War. Too often today’s tattered citizen of the street was yesterday’s toast-of-the-town in a crisp uniform with rows of shining medals. This is hardly the “thanks of a grateful nation.”
Companies should understand that it’s smart business to hire veterans, and when members of the Guard and Reserves deploy, it is America’s business to ensure that their civilian careers do not suffer.
We must not forget the unique needs of female veterans. There are more than 1.8 million women in America today who have worn the uniform. Women are major contributors to our military readiness and many have given their lives in the Global War on Terrorism. VA must adequately treat breast and cervical cancer as well as trauma that may have resulted from domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault.
Ceremonies are important, but our gratitude must be expressed more than once a year. We must honor these men and women by living well. Whether it’s a walk to raise awareness of veteran’s issues, support of a fundraiser for a veteran’s shelter, or a donation to help an aging veteran make a trip to the nation’s capital to see the monuments erected in their honor, we must always remember that each veteran represents an oath taken that included a willingness to die for this country if called upon.
It is what President Lincoln characterized as “the last full measure of devotion.”
I speak of my nephew every year, Staff Sergeant Edward Thomas Pineda, West Chicago graduate, class of 2003 and will continue to mention him every year until he has completed his service to his Country. He has served six tours so far; one in Iraq, five tours in Afghanistan. The proud soldier that he is, he has made the decision and sacrifice to defend this Country and to continue to give us the right to live freely. Let’s continue to pray that my nephew and that his generation make it home safely and they are able to join the elite group, and live a long healthy life as a proud Veteran.
Born of their extraordinary accomplishments comes our extraordinary debt. And for those accomplishments and for their dedication, we must always be grateful.
Whenever we hear a rant about the high cost of veterans’ benefits, it is up to us to remind the critic about the high cost of being a veteran. It is a cost measured in blood, sweat, and sacrifice that has produced and protected the greatest nation on earth.
God bless you all for being here, God bless our veterans, God bless the City of West Chicago and God bless the United States of America.
To view a video snapshot of the Observance, click here.