Oro Valley resident and Four-Star General John Wickham recalls returning home from the Vietnam War after being almost mortally wounded during combat. A well-dressed, middle-aged woman walked up to him at Grand Central Station. She didn’t shake his hand or offer a thank you. Instead, she spit in his face and called him, as he puts it, “some of the foulest names you can imagine.” That was the mentality of many American citizens toward soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Veteran’s Day is Monday, and while most citizens are instinctively grateful to our men and women in uniform, there are still some that, at least metaphorically, spit in the faces of our brave soldiers.
While the type of disdain seen during the Vietnam War may not be as prevalent these days, there are still some who neglect the derivation of their freedoms by not only rejecting the value of service members, but also actively promoting hatred toward them.
Groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, who, taking full advantage of the freedom of speech and religion that our military fights to protect, protest at fallen soldiers’ funerals, boasting signs that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
Fortunately, there are those who stand up against such hatred. The Patriot Guard riders, a motorcycle group, has become well known for forming barriers between Westboro members and families during funeral services for fallen servicemen, revving their motors to drown out the slanderous protests.
Anonymous, a hacking group, has digitally rebuked Westboro’s efforts by brand jacking and hacking its Facebook page, countering the group’s hateful tactics with positive, uplifting memes and messages.
Even former members of Westboro are beginning to speak out. Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, granddaughters of Westboro Pastor Fred Phelps, recently abandoned all ties with the church, acknowledging they caused a “lot of hurt of people,” and are now “working to do good.”
Our veterans deserve better than what they get – and not only when it comes to hate groups. Unemployment rates for veterans, while decreased this year, continue to hover around seven percent, and particularly affect young veteran jobseekers. Divorce rate for soldiers – often the result of PTSD or long periods of separation, have skyrocketed. Veteran’s care for the injured continues to be a task that is of higher demand than it is of fulfillment. Suicide rates for soldiers returning home are substantial.
Some or all of these factors may seem foreign to the average American, as less than one half of one percent of this nation’s population will ever wear a military uniform. The extreme sacrifices made by our soldiers need to be met with an equal or greater response.
You’re probably not a member of The Patriot Guard riders or Anonymous. You may not own a business in which you can choose to employ a veteran looking for work. You may not be able to cure a veteran’s PTSD or injury. You may not feel like there is much you can do at all. But there is.
This Veteran’s Day, you can walk up to a member of this nation’s military, shake his or her hand, and say, “Thank you for your service.”
And you should.