by Quin Hillyer
I write this on Memorial Day (although you'll be reading it later this week), with the movie "The Longest Day" (about the D-Day invasion) playing on a cable station - and my mind goes back to my very first job out of college, working as a Reagan political appointee doing public affairs work at the Veterans Administration headquarters two blocks from the White House. Just six months there confirmed my deep distaste for the ways of bureaucracy, but it also made me appreciate even more the great work and sacrifices of our veterans, living and dead.
Of course, most of the VA's work involved serving those veterans still alive, rather than those we honor on Memorial Day who already have given their last true measure of devotion. Either way, every single one who served honorably is a hero in the old, exclusive sense of the word - the way it was used sparingly, only for truly extraordinary people, before the word was cheapened by overuse.
One of the great privileges I had at the VA was in publicizing the VA's cutting-edge technology involving prosthetic limbs - which, 25 years ago, were only beginning to be developed into the amazingly versatile appendages they are today. The VA partnered heavily with those who sponsored the Olympic-like contests for those in wheelchairs or on prosthetics. I was bowled over by the grit, perseverance, and also the competitive joy shown by the veterans with amputations. The word "inspirational" does not do them justice.
We also sponsored an event at which a double-amputee veteran (his name, alas, is buried somewhere in my files), doing a fund-raiser for various good causes, rolled his wheelchair the 100-plus miles from a VA facility in D.C. to one in Richmond. His arms pumped those wheels like pistons, his smile never leaving his face. His fighting spirit was overwhelming. It is matched by ever-increasing numbers of other wounded warriors, maimed but not defeated by the roadside bombs and IEDs of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locales. We owe them all so much.
It was my duty not for Memorial Day but for Veterans Day, 1986, to draft a speech used by mid-level officials to use at Vets Day ceremonies at local facilities around the country. The two celebrations, while for different purposes, are similar enough that some of those words are relevant. Therefore, I offer some excerpts:
Today, we honor those who exhibited, in the words of the great poet Tennyson, "some sense of duty, something of a faith, some reverence for the laws ourselves have made... some civic manhood firm against the crowd....
An Army and a Navy are nothing without good men and women to give them flesh and spirit. The veterans we recognize today have served to safeguard our country and its constitutional freedoms throughout the world: the freedom of people to elect their own governments; the freedom to voice political opinions without fear of reprisal; the freedom to worship in whatever way one chooses. ....
President Theodore Roosevelt once said that "the first requisite of a good citizen in the Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight." Our veterans, in Teddy Roosevelt's terms, are good citizens several times over. We in the VA know from personal experience that our veterans' service and citizenship doesn't end when they take off the uniform. Veterans become our finest citizens, our hardest and most effective workers, our most sincere patriots. They know, and constantly demonstrate, the value of teamwork, responsibility, discipline, fitness and loyalty....
[Veterans] are entitled to care and repayment for their services, for all America is in their debt. It is the VA's mission to ensure that the debt is paid... That is why the VA is a worldwide leader in fields such as prosthetic research, where its amazing technological innovations offer paraplegics the dream of walking once again, and already allow amputees to run. That is why it also provides more than 100 national cemeteries to ensure final and perpetual dignity for veterans and their dependents....
Of course, aside from Arlington National Cemetery itself, probably the most famous of all resting places for Americans who fell in battle is not even in the United States, but in Normandy, France - where, of course, D-Day (as represented in the movie on my TV right now) occurred. Let us remember, then, the words of Ronald Reagan, speaking in Normandy on the 40th anniversary of that great event:
"The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. .... You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you."
May we ever remain in support of them, and may we ever remember.
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Quin Hillyer is a Senior Fellow for The Center for Individual Freedom, a Senior Editor for the American Spectator magazine, and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mobile. He has won mainstream awards for journalistic excellence at the local, state, regional and national levels. He has been published professionally in well over 50 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, Investors Business Daily, National Review, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, and The New Republic Online. He is a former editorial writer and columnist for the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, the Mobile Register, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a former Managing Editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. He has appeared dozens of times as a television analyst in Washington DC, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and as a guest many hundreds of times on national and local radio shows.
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