We call them patriots, heroes and defenders of the Constitution, liberty and freedom. They are the icon of valor, integrity, justice, honor and sacrifice. There are no superlatives too great befitting our veterans and active duty soldiers.
On July 4, along with our declaration of independence, we will honor and celebrate the Founding Fathers and those who fought to gain and preserve our independence and liberty. Who are these patriots and how do we recognize and cherish their sacrifices?
Recently, Sgt. Dennis Weichel died while saving an Afghan girl from being run over by a large military vehicle barreling down on her. Locally, we have Chance Gaal who lost two limbs from an IED in Afghanistan.
Shortly after 911, Arizona Cardinals Pat Tillman turned down a lucrative contract with the Cardinals to enlist. According to the official military account, Pat Tillman was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan while charging up a hill leading his troops.
On March 23, 2003, according to military sources, U.S. Army private Jessica Lynch's convoy was attacked. She bravely fought off the Iraqis till the very end.
Iraq Veterans Against the War member Darren Hubbell of the 82nd Airborne Division served in the 2007 Iraq surge. His father was killed by an IED in Desert Storm, the first Iraq war. These are some of them and their stories.
On July 4, Freedom Fest will be the Independence Day celebration at Coarsegold. There will be food, music, entertainment, moving speeches and patriotic displays. But for the rest of the year other than Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Flag Day, we largely remain silent.
At airports, we will continue to cede deference and preferential treatment to the military. When we see them in uniform, we offer them thanks for their service. Our writings are laden with effusive expressions of "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." We sport "support our troops" bumper stickers. We attach flags to our cars and wear ribbon and flag pins. For most of us, this is the extent to which we demonstrate our support which after a while rings hollow when no attention is given to their silent misery.
What do we do to alleviate the dark side of our veteran's experience -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, unprecedented suicides, rampant homelessness and unemployment, divorce, spousal and family abuse, mental health, bankruptcy, unaffordable, inadequate and untimely treatment, unavailability of treatment, the emotional trauma suffered by mother, fathers, brothers and sisters? Where are the bumpers stickers saying prevent soldier suicides; end veteran homelessness; employ a soldier; increase funding for medical and mental health treatment of our soldiers? Why are awareness and advocacy of these issues not part of the Freedom Fest program and other veterans events? Is this not a more substantive demonstration of support?
Many organizations like Gold Star families and Iraq Veterans Against the War tirelessly campaigned to right these wrongs. These are families who have lost sons and daughters in the war. These are soldiers who served honorably and became casualties. Yet they are called subversives by the most ardent flag wavers, some of whom haven't even served.
Have they not made the ultimate sacrifice? Are they no longer patriots just because they don't repeat the expected narrative?
Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch were lauded as icons of patriotism. When it was revealed that Tillman was killed by friendly fire and Lynch did not fight to the end but, in fact, was scared out of her wits, they were no longer celebrated. How these turn of events made them less patriotic is shameful. These are the forgotten patriots.
Instead, at Freedom Fest we will continue to perpetuate the romantic notion of our soldiers' sacrifice and hide the ugly realities. Equally distressing is that July 4 has been co-opted by the Tea Party to be a partisan political bashing event. Tea Party leader, John Pero, said in last week's interview with Brian Wilkinson, "... it is time to reverse the advancement of a liberal and progressive government..."
Judging by the rest of Pero's comments and the agenda, Freedom Fest appears to be a John Birch Society revival in disguise.
Surely veterans deserve better than lip service, flags, pins, bumper stickers, parades, and co-opted celebrations. Go to whitehouse.gov/issues/veterans and see what Obama has done on veterans issues and push him to do more. Republicans, the self-declared party of the military, have not been very sympathetic according to American Legion National Commander Paul Morin in 2007.