With the exception of World War II veterans, dishonoring or ignoring the service of returning soldiers is a longstanding American tradition. During the Revolution, as many as a third of General Washington’s soldiers crossing the Delaware on a freezing Christmas night in 1776 marched in bare feet. An indifferent Congress refused to allocate funds for food or clothing.
During the winter of 1777-78, starvation and disease decimated Washington’s Army at Valley Forge. Local farmers and merchants competed in selling wormy flour and meat to starving troops. Still, that Army emerged stronger and defeated the British. After the war they were paid off in worthless “continental paper” and broken promises for land.
The 19th century continued the neglect. In 1876, with the loss of General Custer’s command at the Little Big Horn, Congress failed to include officer pay in the budget; officers had to borrow money to survive for the following year.
The Spanish-American War revealed an inadequate logistics system with more casualties resulting from disease than combat. America celebrated its soldiers during WWI, but failed to properly equip them. Post-war, indifference returned.
During the Great Depression, veterans asked for a promised “post-war bonus.” President Hoover deployed troops to break up their protests; President Roosevelt sent 600 veterans to Florida to work on the Key West railroad. In 1935 a Category 5 hurricane threatened their work camps; the government failed to evacuate them and 400 were drowned in the storm surge. In WWII, we put 16 million Americans into uniform. At times we endured 2,000 casualties a week. WWII veterans earned their benefits and a grateful nation willingly recognized their service. Most adjusted well and were successfully re-integrated into civilian life.
Korean War veterans were mostly ignored but not disparaged. Few realize that most Korean War veterans, especially in the first year, were WWII veterans recalled from budding civilian careers. Cutbacks forced them to deploy into combat with substandard equipment: 8,000 died in the first five months of war. Vietnam veterans were the most shabbily treated of all. The few who served comprised less than 1 percent of a nation, which refused to mobilize or support them, during or after the war.
Post-Vietnam, a rebuilt volunteer Army emerged and defeated Iraq’s vaunted “fourth largest Army in the world” in 100 hours, while settling into a 20-year campaign in the Middle East. Those veterans now face a litany of broken promises and arbitrary career termination because of civilian indifference to their fate.
In 2010, the Veterans Administration Regional Director covering Texas prohibited wounded veterans from receiving religious materials or services in VA hospitals; the same director prohibited religious services for Veterans interred in VA cemeteries. The president did nothing; veterans’ families were forced to sue in Federal court to restore their First Amendment rights.
Homeland Security issued memos warning law enforcement of the “threat posed by returning veterans to national security” due to their combat service and now the VA is arbitrarily attempting to strip veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder of their Second Amendment rights without due process. The successful re-integration of veterans into civilian life is directly affected by their reception by the community. We’re off to a poor start; the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan deserve our support, not broken promises, scorn or shameful treatment by Federal bureaucrats.
Al Fonzi is a retired Army Lt. Colonel and career intelligence officer with more than 30 years of service. He is a self-described conservative and active in several political organizations. Fonzi first moved to Atascadero in 1972.
For the complete article see the 03-06-2013 issue.
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