In 1776, our founding fathers penned these words as they prepared for war with Britain, but they aren’t true. There is one group that deserves greater respect than others and is currently receiving less — our veterans.
As terrible stories unfolded recently about the treatment (or nontreatment) of veterans, I shook my head in sadness, and continued about my day. “They deserve better,” I’d think.
Then a recent bout of insomnia had me surfing the Internet until I saw a name I knew. Joe Geoghagan was in my graduating class at Oakman High School.
With only a little over 50 graduates that year, it was safe to say we knew each other. Joe was incredibly smart. There is a picture in our senior yearbook of the two of us with our feet propped on Principal Randy Woods’ desk, beneath a headline that reads "Most Likely to Succeed."
I didn't keep up with him after graduation or realize that he had been overseas in service to our country.
Now, Joe is dying from a lack of care. He's begging the VA and government to keep him from being another casualty of war ... years after his service ended. He is getting no answers and no help.
My grandfather was just 17 when he lied about his age to enlist in the United States Navy as the country prepared to enter World War II. My great-uncle served in the Air Force during the same time. As a child, I remember stories from them about how they couldn't even buy themselves a cup of coffee locally because citizens and local merchants, eager to honor these returning heroes, would take care of the bill before they could reach for their wallets.
I'm not sure when that changed, but I suspect it may have been Vietnam, when many were drafted into service and the war was not popular.
As we entered Iraq, this country found itself embroiled in another unpopular war.
Like Vietnam, this wasn't a war chosen by those who were serving. They were called into action by the country they loved, and they served their duty to the country, to us.
And we have failed them. From a country that made sure returning soldiers didn't have to buy themselves a cup of coffee, to a country that leaves veterans to figure out how to find treatment for injuries suffered while defending us.
Has Joe's government failed him? Without question. But that's an easy excuse that shifts the blame to someone else and let's us feel better about our own inaction.
Because Joe didn't sign his life away to the President. He didn't go to war to protect a faceless Congress. He went to war to protect his mom, his brother, his friends, the girl from high school who all but forgot him after graduation. You see, we failed Joe and all the others like him who are suffering because of their service to us. Every day that we click our tongues and shake our heads about how awful the President or the government is and then go about our business, we fail Joe.
This is my challenge to you and myself — honor a veteran today. If you have family or friends that served, tell them how much you appreciate it. If not, there are no shortage of men and women here who would be thrilled to have a stranger talk to them about their service.
But, above all else, make a stand. Write your representative, write the President, do something, anything, to help. Refuse to be quiet until our veterans receive the respect and care they have earned.
Rachel Davis is a staff writer at the Daily Mountain Eagle. She can be reached at (205) 221-2840 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.