Shutting down federal memorials shameful
"The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.” Calvin Coolidge
I choose to believe that the callous treatment of our nation’s veterans and their families over the past weeks is due to lack of foresight and leadership rather than an intentional infliction of pain.
To shut down open air memorials is reprehensible. But to even temporarily deny the families of the fallen transportation and funds to receive the flag-draped remains of their loves ones is an outrage.
Imagine telling the four families who traveled on their own to Dover AFB last week that there might not be any financial help until after the partial government shutdown is resolved. The Fisher House came to the rescue with the White House responding only after negative press.
As evidenced by the veterans rally in Washington last weekend, memorials have meaning.
Last year on a trip through BWI airport in Baltimore, I heard prolonged applause from three gates down. World War II veterans in wheelchairs were being individually escorted from a Freedom Flight into the terminal. They were enroute to their memorial in D.C. Lines of young veterans in Navy and Army uniforms and passersby cheered each one.
Our remaining World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 618 daily. Freedom Flights, sometimes months in the making, are organized by donors around the nation to bring these 90-plus-year-old patriots for a one time look at their memorial. They are being told by government agents to come back after the partial shutdown is over or risk being arrested if they somehow get by the barriers.
I have visited my war’s Vietnam Memorial a half-dozen times. The feeling of reverence, muted emotion, and contemplation is like being in church.
Hundreds stand in silent reflection, lost in thought about family or comrades frozen in time. Some rub names onto paper while others lay flowers or mementos below the name of a loved one. Others shed quiet tears as they touch the black stone. There is no generational separation in the shared understanding and loss.
Several weeks ago Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Gen. James F. Livingston, USMC, (Ret.) addressed Gold Star families in Dover. He spoke to the hushed audience about the Vietnam Memorial as a place where the souls of 83 of his men call out to him. That sacred spot is now closed by metal barriers and guards.
A war memorial is more than a place or object to be used for political points. It is an affirmation for all who served, and more important, a tribute to the memory of comrades who paid the ultimate price.
Memorials provide a sense of healing that most non-veterans don’t understand. Our current generation of warriors are coming to the realization of their own sacrifice and mortality.
Kent County Chapter 850 of the Vietnam Veterans of America has set aside space in the Kent County Veterans Park for soon-to-be constructed Korean War and Iraq/Afghanistan memorials. Like our Vietnam memorial, they will be created and maintained with private funds and always be open.
The one percent who defend our nation should never have to fight their own government for the care or benefits due them. Nor should they ever be barred from their own memorials.
president, Delaware Veterans Coalition