Twenty-two veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam shivered in the cold wind cutting through the WW II Memorial last Saturday. They were visiting Washington, D.C., on an all-expense-paid trip courtesy of Honor Flight Savannah. Generals and admirals arrayed in dress blues waited to shake their hands. A joint-force color guard, an anthem soloist from Pershing’s Own, and an Army bugler were poised to begin the welcome ceremony. We looked forward to a day designed to show our veterans appreciation for their courage and sacrifice. Then, I remembered another veteran. One not so lucky.
As the board member responsible for ensuring military support for our Honor Flight visits, I arrived in D.C. a day early. On Friday, I had time to walk along the somber black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Where the walls meet, a knot of people stood listening to an older man describe a plane crash in the last days of the Vietnam War. As his story ended, the man said he was a Vietnam veteran and had been homeless for 15 months. He wasn’t asking for a handout, however. He asked his audience to write to their congressmen, requesting more support for veterans.
I drifted away, but as I was about to exit the memorial, I turned back. The crowd was dispersing. I approached the man and extended my hand. “Thank you for your sacrifice,” I said. “What was your MOS?”
If he truly was a veteran, he would know that MOS stands for “Military Occupation Specialty.”
“I was in the 101st Airborne,” he replied. “Infantry, 11-Bravo.”
He had been combat-wounded twice and had earned the Bronze Star. And he was homeless.
The causes for this situation are complex, not to be remedied by a simple solution. But we would do well to ask our congressmen to go to bat for this man and others like him.
Buddy Carter, Georgia’s 1st District congressman, was among those waiting to welcome our Honor Flight veterans to D.C. With four major military installations in his district, Carter’s attention to veterans’ needs is both welcome and well-deserved.
What about congressmen everywhere? What can we do for the veterans who huddle, homeless, telling stories after-hours at their memorials?
Carter’s website states an indisputable truth: “America’s veterans put everything on the line to protect our freedom and they deserve the best possible care when returning home.”
Free trips, color guards, salutes from active-duty troops – all these accolades are commendable. But putting a roof over an old soldier’s head is the foundation of honor.
Carol Megathlin is a writer living in Savannah.