Veterans Day and Memorial Day usually cross over for me. I can’t help thinking of our living Vets without also thinking of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and security. Like many of you, I have friends who have paid a price for that freedom. All to often, is has been their life or a substantial injury – physical or psychological.
On Memorial Day, I can usually be found with my veterans group, at Westminster Memorial Park, paying homage to our fallen comrades. This ceremony is particularly special to me – the remaining members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association lay a wreath along with the rest of us. This year, there were only two who could attend. I am told there are only three left in the county.
Veterans Day is different. As a former member of the United States Air Force during Vietnam, I felt it was rather self-serving to celebrate a time that I was not particularly proud of. I’ve written about my experiences coming home in uniform. And, although the military gave me a start in life, it was not something I thought much of after my discharge. That is, until Veterans Day of 2005.
On that particular day, my wife talked me into going down to Peppertree Park where The American Legion was hosting a celebration. During the ceremonies, the emcee asked all the veterans of each respective war to stand up. They were greeted with applause.
When it came time for the Vietnam Era vets to stand, I didn’t. My wife kept hitting me in the ribs until finally, exasperated, I stood. Instead of the usual applause, the emcee said, “Welcome Home” in recognition of the general feeling of Americans towards servicemen of the era.
It was the first time someone said that to me. I was flabbergasted, dumfounded and -mostly- embarrassed. Later, it gave me the courage to thank others and welcome them home. It’s something that, I am proud to say, has become a national trend. In the years since, I have been welcomed home, bear hugged and thanked for my service more times than I will ever be able to count. I am grateful and humbled. Today, I still thank men and women in uniform for their service as well as veterans I’ve come to know. I surround myself with other veterans from organizations like The American Legion and the American Legion Riders. Both organizations give back tremendously to our veterans who have given so much for us.
There is a gap, however. Many veterans, too many in fact, are homeless. Many others who suffer PTS are written off as mentally ill. County veterans organizations and the OC Veterans Service Office work hard both politically and at the grassroots level to change national policy and get veterans the help they need. And, you can help.
On Veterans Day, public and private sector labor unions are taking the lead to obtain needed services for our veterans, on the heels of the recent Orange County Veterans Stand Down, the Orange County Employees Association, in conjunction with other county unions will be hosting a “mini-stand down” of sorts at the Orange County Fairgrounds.
We are hosting a FREE Veterans Day community celebration Nov. 11 to say thank you to our veterans, to connect them with the services they need, and to give them our gratitude. There are so many ways for you and your family to give back at this eventfrom saying a simple “thank you” to sending a care package, to writing a holiday card for a veteran.
This is our opportunity to show the entire community our commitment to the values of our country and the importance of public service. And it’s FREE (so are the famous OCEA hot dogs!)
So please bring your children. And let’s stand together to say “thank you” and to fight for them the way they fought for us.
The day begins with a motorcycle rally & run from the OC Labor Federation in Orange to the fairgrounds. The rally begins at 10:30 AM with Kickstands up at 11:30 AM. At the fairgrounds, the general public will be treated to static military displays and be able to make cards for overseas military and send care packages in a program partnership with the Orange County Register. There will be a resource fair available for veterans as well. Form more information, click on the links and also go to the VeteransandLabor.com Website.
OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, a Vietnam Veteran himself, hopes that everyone will come out, enjoy the day and say thanks to the veterans of our community. I think we should also thank Nick. Not just for his work with the public unions in doing a remarkable job for their members but, especially for his service to the greatest country in the world.
Welcome home, Nick.
It has been my privilege to serve this great Country in the armed forces during time of conflict. My two older brothers served in the same era and my mother and father served during World War II. Even a younger brother has served in the Naval Reserves. I have one close friend’s name etched on Section 42E Line 003 of the National Vietnam War Memorial, which I have touched during my only trip to Washington D.C. I wear a daily reminder of his friendship.
So, it should come as no surprise that Veterans Day is very special to me. While Memorial Day is a rememberance of our fallen, Veterans Day remembers the sacrifice of the living. In my time of war, veterans and active duty members of the Armed Forces were not particularly popular or welcome in some circles. I remember going home on leave after boot camp, proudly wearing my dress blues. No one sat next to me on the bus, no one would sit next to me at the bus stop lunch counters I was stared at and tolerated but rarely spoken to. It was the last time I wore my uniform off base.
Years later President Ronald Reagan, while tearing down the Wall between East and West Berlin, managed to reignite patriotism among the people. It became fashionable to fly our flag everyday, not just on holidays. And he once again made me proud, through his speech and actions, to be a veteran. And I realized that it truly was a privilege to serve my Country.
I have been a member of various posts of The American Legion, including our own Post 227, for more than 25 years. Six years ago, I helped found the American Legion Riders in California. I surround myself with fellow veterans who think nothing of the fact they once wrote a blank check to the people of the United States of America, payable up to and including their life. It has made us members of a special brotherhood with, at times, a costly membership fee we have been honored to pay.
Regardless of our stance on the war, the American People are immensely proud of our soldiers. We celebrate when they go off to war. We celebrate the the end of war and cheer the men and women serving there when they come home.. But, keep in mind that we had and continue to have, Armed Forces stationed around the world in the Korean DMZ, Japan, the Middle East and Europe, to name a few places. These warriors are the peacekeepers that insure yours and my freedom, from lonely outposts far from family and friends.
So, today, please take a moment to stop and thank your Higher Power for the veterans of our Country who have worked to preserve the freedom you enjoy today. And, if you meet one on the street, thank him or her for their service and say, “Welcome home.”