To many Americans, Memorial Day has lost its meaning
By Michael Rubinkam, Associated Press May 28, 2017
ANNVILLE, Pa. — While millions of Americans celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer, some veterans and loved ones of fallen military members wish the holiday that honors the nation’s war dead would command more respect. Allison Jaslow heard it more than once as the long holiday weekend approached — a cheerful “Happy Memorial Day!” from oblivious well-wishers.
The former Army captain and Iraq War veteran had a ready reply, telling them, matter-of-factly, that she considered it a work weekend. Jaslow will be at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday to take part in the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. She’ll then visit Section 60, the final resting place of many service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You can see it in people’s faces that they’re a little horrified that they forget this is what the day’s about,” said Jaslow, 34, who wears a bracelet bearing the name of a fallen comrade. “Culturally, we’ve kind of lost sight of what the day’s supposed to mean.”
While millions of Americans celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer — think beaches and backyard barbecues, mattress sales and sporting events — some veterans and loved ones of fallen military members wish the holiday that honors more than 1 million people who died serving their country would command more respect.
Or at least awareness.
“It’s a fun holiday for people: ‘Let’s party.’ It’s an extra day off from work,” said Carol Resh, 61, whose son, Army Capt. Mark Resh, was killed in Iraq a decade ago. “It’s not that they’re doing it out of malice. It just hasn’t affected them.”
Veterans groups say a growing military-civilian disconnect contributes to a feeling that Memorial Day has been overshadowed. More than 12 percent of the U.S. population served in the armed forces during World War II. That’s down to less than one-half of a percent today, guaranteeing more Americans aren’t personally acquainted with a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
With an all-voluntary military, shared sacrifice is largely a thing of the past — even as U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq nearly 16 years after 9/11.
“There are a lot of things working against this particular holiday,” said Brian Duffy, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“It hurts,” Duffy said. For combat veterans and Gold Star families especially, “it hurts that, as a society, we don’t truly understand and appreciate what the true meaning of Memorial Day is.”
Jaslow’s group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is trying to raise awareness with its #GoSilent campaign, which encourages Americans to pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. Monday to remember the nation’s war dead.
Of course, plenty of Americans already observe the holiday. At Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia, fresh flowers mark hundreds of graves, and fields of newly erected American flags flap in the breeze. Hundreds of motorcyclists thundered in for a Saturday service. By the end of the weekend, thousands of people will have come to the cemetery to pay their respects.
“This is our Super Bowl,” said Randy Plummer, the cemetery’s administrative officer.
Jim Segletes, 65, a Vietnam-era Marine visiting the grave of his father-in-law, a World War II veteran who died in 2000, said he thinks Americans became more patriotic and aware of military sacrifice after 9/11.
“Everyone is more in tune with veterans, more so than when I was in the service,” he said.
Douglas and Rene Kicklighter, Iraq veterans at the cemetery with their 10- and 12-year-old sons, said they believe most people understand what the holiday’s about. But they, too, cringe when they hear: “Happy Memorial Day.”
“It’s not happy,” said Rene Kicklighter, 37, who retired from the Army National Guard. “It’s somber. I try to flip the lens on the conversation a bit and gently remind them what it’s really about.”
Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was conceived after the Civil War as a way to honor the Union’s war dead, with Southern states setting aside separate days to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. By the early 20th century, the holiday had evolved to honor all military members who died in service.
Some veterans say Memorial Day began to be watered down more than four decades ago when Congress changed the date from its traditional May 30 to the last Monday in May to give people a three-day weekend. Arguing that transformed a solemn day of remembrance into one associated with leisure and recreation, veterans groups have long advocated a return to May 30. For years, the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, asked Congress to change it back, to no avail.
That leaves it to people like Resh, the Gold Star mother, to spread the message.
Invited to speak to high school students in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she said she told them, “What is the true meaning of Memorial Day? Ask any Gold Star family and they’ll tell you what it means. It’s not about the picnics. It’s about the men and women who have given their lives for this country.
“Every day is Memorial Day for us.”
Dems view vets as strong candidates in bid to retake House
Bill Barrow, Associated Press
Atlanta (AP) — Democrats hope to enlist military veterans in another type of fight — for majority control of the House.
Looking ahead to next year’s elections, Democrats are trying to recruit at least two dozen military veterans to challenge Republican incumbents, arguing that candidates with a military background on their resumes appeal to independent voters and can help the party break the GOP grip on Washington.
“Veterans have had the experience of putting the country first, before personal politics” and party dictates, said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass, who did four tours of duty in Iraq, left the Marines as a captain and was elected to Congress in 2014. That tends “to attract the kind of independent voters who are looking for a good leader,” Moulton added.
Several veterans already have announced their bids in some of the 79 Republican-held House districts that national Democratic Party leaders have identified as top targets.
Decades ago, veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam were mainstays in Congress. In 1969-71, 398 veterans served in the House and 69 in the Senate, according to the Congressional Research Service. But the change to an all-volunteer force in 1973 sent those numbers plummeting.
The extended post-Sept. 11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq helped reverse the trend, and now there are 80 veterans in the 435-seat House and 20 veterans in the 100-member Senate.
For Democrats, struggling to return to the majority, military veterans provide potential candidates as the party deals with an electoral wipeout during Barack Obama’s presidency, with the loss of more than 1,030 seats in state legislatures, governor’s mansions and Congress.
Moulton and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq, have spoken to veterans in districts ranging from obvious Democratic targets to places where the path to victory isn’t as obvious.
The party needs to pick up 24 seats to reclaim a House majority next November.
In the Philadelphia suburbs, former Air Force officer Chrissy Houlahan is challenging two-term Republican Rep. Ryan Costello in one of 23 districts where Democrat Hillary Clinton topped Trump in November. Outside Denver, former Army Ranger and combat veteran Jason Crow, a onetime campaign adviser to Obama, is running for the seat held by another veteran, five-term GOP congressman, Mike Coffman.
Both mentioned President Donald Trump as factors in their campaign.
“All the bravado and the wailing and gnashing of teeth isn’t the way we conduct ourselves as professional service members,” Houlahan said of Trump’s rhetoric.
Said Crow: “I’m deeply troubled by President Trump and what he’s trying to do to country and our democracy.”
Dan McCready, a former Marine who attended Harvard Business School alongside Moulton, steered clear of Trump as he announced his bid to win the more Republican-leaning North Carolina district of three-term Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger.
But all three candidates, along with Moulton, agreed that veterans offer voters an approach rarely taken on Capitol Hill.
“We know what it’s like to serve the country in non-political ways, and we’re standing up to say that the system is broken,” said Crow. He added that any military unit brings together “Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated, every different background, every part of the country, urban rural, every rung of the economic ladder, and they have to come together very quickly … or the mission fails.”
Democratic veterans have run notable campaigns in recent years.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a West Point graduate and former Ranger, emphasized his record to attract enough voters in a conservative state. In Missouri last year, former Army intelligence officer Jason Kander drew national attention for his U.S. Senate campaign ad in which he assembled an AR-15 rifle while blindfolded. He lost by 3 percentage points, but got 230,000 more votes than Clinton, who lost the state by 18 points.
Seth Lynn, who runs the nonpartisan Veterans Campaign, an organization that trains veterans running for office, says research suggests veterans running against a non-veteran get “about a 2-point bump” on average.
Lynn isn’t yet tracking exact numbers of veteran candidates, but says he’s seen a “noticeable uptick” among Democrats.
Some of that, Lynn says, is the usual clamoring by the party out of power: Republican veterans arose in 2010, the first midterm under Obama, and Democrats’ boasted a large slate in 2006, amid opposition to the Iraq war during President George W. Bush’s second term.
Those veteran candidates did not all win, of course. But those midterm years marked the last two times voters tossed out the House majority in favor of the other party.
HuffPost, THE BLOG
May 27, 2014, Updated June 2, 2015
41 Republican Senators Voted Against a Landmark Veterans Bill in February, Today They Blame the VA
By H.A. Goodman
Earlier this year, the GOP had a chance to prove that it could fund veterans’ health care as eagerly as it borrowed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Long before the current VA crisis, an event described as “a gift from God” by Dr. Ben Carson, Senate Republicans had a chance to vote on a landmark bill. Before the Senate vote, organizations devoted to the needs of veterans and their families offered widespread support to the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.
On January 21, 2014 the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) wrote a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsing the legislation. The IAVA believed, “This legislation would accomplish many of the goals for which veterans and military service organizations have been advocating for years, including strengthening the Post-9-11 GI Bill, expanding advance appropriations for more of the VA’s budget…and much more.” The Veterans of Foreign Wars was just as enthusiastic in its support, and wrote a similar letter explaining how S. 1982 would help veterans:
If signed into law, this sweeping legislation would expand and improve health care and benefit services to all generations of veterans and their families. Most notably, it would expand the current caregiver law to include all generations of veterans and provide advance appropriations to ensure monthly compensation and pension as well as education payments are protected from future budget battles. The bill also offers in-state tuition protection for recently transitioned veterans, improves access to mental health and treatment for victims of sexual assault in the military, and authorizes construction of more than 20 Community Bases Outpatient Clinics to serve veterans in rural and remote communities.
Echoing the IAVA and VFW, The Paralyzed Veterans of America stated that “This legislation marks one of the most comprehensive bills to ever be considered in the Senate or House.” The PVA went on to state that, “If enacted, S. 1982 would accomplish some of the highest priorities for Paralyzed Veterans and its members.” VetsFirst, another group devoted to disabled veterans, also explained “this legislation goes a long way toward fulfilling many of the current and future needs of our disabled veterans.”
Furthermore, The American Legion lent “its full support” to the bill since it “addresses several high priority issues for The American Legion, like repealing the 1 percent retiree COLA provision, funding the stalled CBOCs for the VA, increasing access to health care for veterans at VA, employment and education fixes, and other programs that are important to us.” In addition, The American Legion explained that the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 was essential to veterans in other ways:
The American Legion also appreciates the many areas in which this bill addresses needed attention regarding Military Sexual Trauma counseling, additional training and assistance for Traumatic Brain Injury victims, improvements and much-needed updates to the Dependency and Indemnification Compensation program, VA’s Work-Study program, and its On-the-Job Training program.
Therefore, with so much positive feedback from veterans groups about the bill, it’s only logical to assume that Senate Republicans would do everything possible to ensure it became law.
Unfortunately, S.1982 was killed by Senate Republicans, with a vote of 56-41 — only Republicans Senators voting nay and with only two Republicans voting for the bill. The logic behind every vote against the bill being Republican rests in the following statement from North Carolina Senator Richard M. Burr:
With $17 trillion in debt and massive annual deficits, our country faces a fiscal crisis of unparalleled scope. Now is not the time, in any federal department, to spend money we don’t have. To be sure, there’s much to like in the Sanders bill. And if those components were presented as separate, smaller bills, as part of a carefully considered long-term strategy to reform the VA, hold leadership accountable and improve services to veterans, we would have no problem extending enthusiastic support.
Also, Republicans called for sanctions on Iran to be included within the veterans’ bill, and since it wasn’t included within the bill, they voted against the landmark legislation. As stated by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell regarding the Iran sanctions, “There is no excuse for muzzling the Congress on an issue of this importance to our own national security.”
So how did veterans feel about the February 26, 2014 vote where 41 Republicans voted against a sweeping bill to help veterans? American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger expressed his frustration with the outcome by stating, “There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way. That’s inexcusable.”
As for Senator Richard Burr, he recently received a scathing letter from the Veterans of Foreign Wars pertaining to his open letter to veterans groups about the VA crisis. In addition, Burr received another response letter from the Paralyzed Veterans of America stating that, “Rest assured, you do not speak for or represent the interests of Paralyzed Veterans’ members-veterans with spinal cord injury or dysfunction or any other VSO.”
It should not be overlooked that veterans have been committing suicide, enduring long wait times for disability benefits, and dealing with a wide array of others issues ignored by Congress for the past decade. Also, the most indignant Republicans like Sen. Burr of North Carolina have also voted against S.1982 and now blame bureaucratic issues, rather than funding problems, as the cause of the VA crisis. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the latest VA crisis and the deaths of veterans in Arizona served as convenient opportunity for the GOP to feign indignation over issues veterans have faced for years.
What better way to circumvent responsibility for underfunding the VA and voting against veteran’s legislation than blaming big government? Somebody should tell Sen. Burr and the GOP that we funded both wars with “money we didn’t have” and we should fund veterans health care as enthusiastically as we paid (borrowed) for two war.
H.A. Goodman Columnist published in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Baltimore Sun, The Hill, Salon, The Jerusalem Post www.hagoodman.com