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May 29, 2003     Cuba Free Press
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The Cuba Free Press Feature 12B May 29, 2003 Memorial Day is observed by local veterans group, s The annual Memorial Day service was held at Kinder Cemetery in Cuba Monday. The ceremony is conducted yearly by the VFW, American Legion and DAV. Frank Shasserre delivered the annual address to those in attendance. It follows below. Remembrance: Dark Days of Trial By Frank Shasserre In the wake of World War I, a number of people wrote responses to the famous poem, "In Flanders Fields," by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of Canada. One of the most powerful is R.W. Lilliard's poem, "America's Answer." Here's his second stanza: Fear not that ye have died for naught. The torch ye threw to us we caught. Ten million hands will hold it high And freedom's light shall never die. t How well those words sum- marize the meaning of what we're doing today as we honor our wartime dead! But, now, let's skip ahead ninety years to our current era, and read some news head- lines from 2003. From NBC News: "A mili- tary policeman ... is being treated for a gunshot wound to his stomach suffered while on duty in Afghanistan." From Fox News: "An American paratrooper was wounded Saturday when he stepped on a landmine while on patrol in eastern Afghanistan." From American Forces Information Services: "Two special forces soldiers were injured ... when a homemade bomb blew up the vehicle they were riding in." And another story from AFIS: "A Special Forces soldier ... was hit in the lower leg when the mounted patrol he was taking part in came under fire about 50 kilometers south- east of Shindand." That wasn't the list of the wounded from a whole year for theUnited States armed forces. These are just a few sto- ries that showed up during the first 2 1/2 weeks of January 2003. As all of us know, it got a whole lot worse after that. In March, Aerica and its allies entered Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Since then, many more of our young men and women have come home sick and injured from the Middle East. More have sacrificed their lives at their country's call to arms. This gives special mean- ing to our observance of Memorial Day this year. In 2003, we honor more than those who died in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. We not only remember those killed in other post-Vietnam armed conflicts, like the attack on the USS Cole. We also pay tribute to mem- bers of our armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice this year--in 2003--in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and other sites of armed hostility. Just as surely as the World War I doughboys mourned by Colonel McCrae, these young men and women are American heroes. Like the fallen soldiers in Mr. Lilliard's poem, they held the torch of freedom high. Today, as America's young men. and women carry that torch into battle yet again, let's stop to appreciate the trust, the courage, and the idealism that burn in their hearts. Times of war are times of national trial - times that test the mettle of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. If this is a crucial turning point in the life of the United States, the men and women of our armed forces stand at the edge of history. As these brave men and women risk their lives, we can learn a great deal from a state- ment Sergeant First Class Christopher Martin made in a recent story released by the Army. Sergeant Martin got a sur- prise recently as he lay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recovering from com- bat wounds. He rolled over on his bed and there stood Secretary of the Army Thomas White. When the Secretary asked how he felt, Sergeant Martin told the simple truth. "I thank God every day for my life," he said. "Every day - and that's nO lie." People die. That's the reali- ty of war and armed conflict. People die in horrible, painful ways. And this young sergeant came so close to being another soldier in the ranks of the dead whose memory we honor on Memorial Day. Without doubt, it is right that our nation sets aside a special date to recall the loss of life that has purchased our nation's liberty and our per: sonal freedoms. It is good that America's leaders take this opportunity to share our nation's gratitude for the lives that have been lost. But, on Memorial Day, I must ask this: Can our leaders honor the dead with their words if government actions fail to honor the sacrifices made by those who lived but came home disabled? The words of our leaders will ring hollow if, in the years to come, our government for- gets Sergeant Martin. We live in a time when there are divisions in our society over issues of foreign policy and questions of war and peace. Reflecting our society as As has become the tradition, Frank Shasserre delivered the annual Memorial Day address. a whole, opinions among the veterans of America's wars vary widely. Some are troubled by the vitality of the debate. But we, who have fought for freedom, have earned the right to smile at all this turmoil. The demo- cratic institutions we defended are working. The freedoms for which w e fought are filled with life. But this is important: In the competition of ideas and ideals, I hope all Americans can agree on one thing. We must respect the integrity of our fighting men and women. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are facing grave danger with the courage of heroes. Their idealism is deeply rooted in the cause of peace and freedom. For the enormous sacrifices they're making today, these heroes deserve all the dignity and all the praise that America has lavished on past genera- tions of veterans. We have a duty to deliver that respect and gratitude. It is a debt of national honor. But that obligation is poorly served by a veterans' health care system that's desperately short of resources -a s.ystem that must ration medical treat- ment to America's veterans. That obligation becomes an empty promise when veterans must wait months - sometimes even years - for settlement of their claims for disability ben- efits. Sadly, this is what's happen- ing in today's U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These are the realities that await Sergeant Martin and others who become disabled while they serve America in Iraq and other war-torn corners of the world. Nothing can justify this fail- ure of America's will to meet the needs of its sick and injured heroes. But who is to blame for this moral tragedy? Well, I won't cast blame on the leaders who have held the post of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The late Jesse Brown, who headed the VA in the Clinton Administration, worked day and night to build up the VA's medical programs. He was a true champion of our nation's veterans. He never stopped trying to make the VA a model of modern health care delivery. Yet Secretary Brown faced stiff opposition in other parts of the government, and his work is not yet done. Justice is still out of reach. America has not honored the dead of its wars by serving those who lived, but came home disabled. Tony Principi, who heads the VA toda.y, has nlade a great cause for change in the VA claims system. He's deter- mined to make sure no veteran waits longer than 100 days for a decision on a claim for bene- fits. Secretary Principi is mak- ing progress. Yet he too faces political forces that resist spending money on our veter- ans. His work is not yet done. Again, America has not hon- ored the dead by serving the living. In response, the veterans' groups have grown more vocal in demanding justice. And they've achieved great unity in their message. Recently every member of the United States Congress received a powerful message from America's three largest veterans' organizations: the DAV, VFW, and American Legion. Deeply worried about the future of all veterans, these organizations stated their message with great clarity. Let me quote: "A new generation of young Americans is once again deployed around the world, answering our nation's call to arms. Like so many brave men and women who honorably served before them, these new veterans are fighting, to the death when necessary, for the freedom, liberty and security of all. "Also, like those who fought before them, these veterans deserve the due respect of a grateful nation when they come home." The respect demanded by the veterans' organizations goes well beyond the pious sen- timents I mentioned a little earlier. On Memorial Day this year, veterans do not want empty rhetoric. If our leaders truly mean to honor the dead of our nation's wars, let them prove their A large crowd was on hand for the 10 a.m. Memorial Day service, held Monday at Kinder Cemetery in Cuba. The service was con- I ducted by the VFW, American Legion and DAV. I words with action. If one disabled treated to anything justice, praises Memorial Day will darkness like the hammer beatin rel. Our government its promise of medical veterans. Our must guarantee funding for the VA system. Nothing short of morally responsible: * There is moral vision in the tern, which leaves VA care subject to every whim that wafts Washington, D.C.! There is no sight in a system young men and war, while cuttin in the medical' need when they come By contrast, there is s of moral reality, one out the necessities of the future of America's ans. That vision has in the Independent that the veterans' tions have Congress and Administration. The DAV, VFW, and PVA worked formulate this a host of smaller groups signed on to this national plan for change. It addresses the needs that were so to the late Jesse joins Tony Principi in for timely decisions in ans' claims. It presents an success in delivering respect America owes its ans. It's a plan that living in meaningful Thus, it gives Memorial Day's honor for the dead. One may ask how things came to pass world of veterans' some would like to media. However, in years, the media .have coming through on Day as well as Veterans I In most age of local events good on both both, editorials have Americans to think human cost of war. This is very most people won't be to the editorial open their newspapers Memorial Day weekend. They won't be coverage of events that our war dead. Instead be looking at ads for Day sales, They won't be the cemeteries or the squares. They won't be ing parades. They'll be to the malls. Something's muddled thinking of a nation ors its war dead with weekend of buying and I think most veteran s: my dismay at this trend' this leaves me all the grateful to you. I coming here today to recognize the many sacrificed their lives defense of liberty. You have not men and women chased America's have remembered all whose blood was spilled" 1776 right up to 2003. Through your have earned the of America's veterans. You are paying our honored dead service to those who recognition of your me return to R.W. poem: Fear not that ye for naught. The torch to us we caught. Ten hands will hold it freedom's l Thank dom's torch in these of trial.