I would like to tell you what it means to me to hold the position of Veterans' Affairs Administrator in Clarke County and to have the honor and privilege of working with Veterans every day. Over 25 years ago, when I was in high school, I would have never guessed this would be the position that I would have today.

To be honest, when I was in school, history was not one of my favorite subjects. I never could understand why we had to learn about all those events in history that had happened such a long time ago, and in my opinion then, really had nothing to do with my life.

Now as I get older, and especially after starting this position I have learned just how important our history is and how important it is for you all not only to learn it, but to understand how it affects your life today.

When reading stories about WWII, Korea, and Vietnam it seemed like these were periods of time I couldn't relate too, Little did I realize at that time that the gentlemen you see before you today and others who live within our communities, lived these events, they weren't just stories to them.

Since starting my job as the Veterans Affairs Administrator I have met a Veteran whose regiment was sent into Hiroshima days after the bomb was dropped, I have another Veteran who was at the battle of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea and suffers from disabilities today because of his constant exposure to temperatures below 30 degrees. Marines and others who fought in that battle are considered to be part of the "frozen chosin" because of the temperatures they had to endure. I have met Morse code operators, pilots, and flight deck workers, tank crewman, re-fuelers of nuclear sub-marines, and a host of others. And these are all Veterans living in our community. They are your grandfathers, aunts, uncles and more recently your friends, brothers, and sisters.

We are very fortunate in our community to have Fern Underwood who has taken it upon herself to publish the lives of the veterans living in Clarke County. If you get the chance, make sure you look through the books she has published. You may be surprised to see people that you have known all your life, but may not have known that they are a Veteran or the story they have to tell.

So I would like to thank Fern for that. I would also like to thank all of you for being here today. If you think about it, we probably use the words "thank-you" or some variation of it at least a dozen times a day. But how do you thank someone for saving the world? When you ask young men and women to endure great hardships, drastically change their lifestyles and possibly give their lives for you, the words "thank-you" just don't seem like enough.

Fortunately, veterans don't ask for much. Benefits are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the financial and human cost of war. But none the less, we still owe them.

You may recall President Lincoln's famous promise from his 2nd inaugural address, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan." Did you know that the idea for that promise may not have come from our 16th president but from his 10 year old son, Willie?

Historian Doris Goodwin wrote of the close bond between Colonel Baker and the Lincoln family. One day in 1861, as he left the White house for battle, Col. Baker shook the president's hand and lifted young Willie off the ground and kissed him good-bye. Within 24 hours the Lincolns had received word that Col Baker was killed at Balls Bluff.

Heart broken Willie composed a short poem:

"His country has her part to play,
To'rds those he left behind,
His widow and his children all,
She must always keep in mind."

Tragically Willie lost his life a few months later to typhoid. But in his short life he understood the meaning of a veteran's sacrifice and what is owed by a grateful nation.

In his acceptance speech at the American Legions' National Convention, Commander David K. Rehbien (Ray Bine) spoke of pride and purpose. He reflected on the purpose that WWI veterans felt when they came home from Europe 90 years ago, understanding that they stood beside their comrades in the trenches of war and needed to continue to stand beside them as they re­adjusted to society. "That purpose will stay alive because our comrades will always need us," National Commander Ray Bine said.

The American Legion and other service organizations exist because Veterans need each other, but more importantly, out country needs our Veterans.

You cannot fight a war without Veterans, and while in an ideal society there would be no wars, let us not forget that wars have liberated slaves, stopped genocide and toppled terrorists.

It has often been said that without our Veterans, Americans would be speaking Russian, German, or perhaps, Japanese. Regardless of which view of alternative history you take, WE DO KNOW that without our Veterans, America would not be America.

Most Veterans will also say that the military has made them better Americans. Marco Martinez, for instance, says he was a 17-year-old thug. He described himself as a "gun toting, car stealing, gang member." Yet, he credits the United States Marine Corps for turning his life around. After his squad leader in Iraq was wounded, Corporal Martinez took control and led an assault through a tree line where the ambush originated. For his actions, Corporal Martinez was awarded the Navy Cross; which is the 2nd highest honor a Marine can receive. On Corporal Martinez's award citation it states;

"Enduring intense enemy fire and without regard for his own personal safety, Corporal Martinez launched a captured enemy rocket-propelled grenade into the building, temporarily silencing the enemy and allowing a wounded Marine to be evacuated and receive medical treatment. After receiving additional fire, he single-handedly assaulted the building and killed four enemy soldiers with a grenade and his rifle. By his outstanding display of leadership, unlimited courage in the face of enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, Corporal Martinez reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."

Not all Veterans have seen war, but a common bond that they share is an oath in which they expressed their willingness to die defending this nation.

The greatest wars are the battles that America does not have to fight because those who wish to do us harm slink away in fear of the Coast Guard Cutter, the Navy Aircraft Carrier or the Army soldier on patrol.

While we are happy to be here today to express our appreciation for our Veterans, TRUE APPRECIATION is expressed through deeds, not words.

To the administration I would say that when an airman-turned job applicant sits across from you during an interview, weigh that experience a little heavier than most.

When an American Legion auxiliary member asks you to buy a poppy, remember the Korean War Veteran in a hospital bed.
When a member of Congress complains about the cost of a Veterans' Program, remind the law maker of the cost of being a Veteran.

And, as young Willie Lincoln reminded us, we must never forget the families. We must honor these families not just with Blue and Gold Star Banners, but with open hearts. Help the busy mother of two with her yard work, while her husband is fighting Taliban in Afghanistan. Support the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund so children can receive educations in the event their father or mother lose their lives during military service. And most of all, thank today's service members for the sacrifices they are making for America and past service members for the sacrifices they have made as well.

And in the words of the great poet Walt Whitman:

"The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, 0 my soldiers, my Veterans,
My heart gives you love."

I'd like to thank you all for being here, God bless our Veterans and God Bless the United States of America! Thank-You



Return to main page for Clarke Veterans by Fern Underwood

Last Revised June 1, 2015