Veterans: America’s True Melting Pot

INDIANAPOLIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Editor – The following guest editorial by the national commander
of The American Legion is offered for your consideration.

By Charles E. Schmidt

Carl Johnson’s life matters. Johnson, a veteran now living in Virginia,
was the last Tuskegee Airman to graduate from the famed school that
produced so many heroic African American aviators.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Army issued Johnson a train
ticket for a Pullman sleeping car so he could get from Texas to Alabama
for his military training in 1946.

Johnson recalled being told by the station manager that he and his
fellow black soldiers were not allowed to use the Pullman. “You have to
go in coach,” they were ordered.

Threatened with jail if they resisted, the soldiers rode for 24 hours
and were denied the use of the train’s dining car as well. Despite the
indignities, Johnson would continue to treat his country better than
many of his fellow citizens treated him. Proud soldier that he was,
Johnson would extend his military service for another three decades,
serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He would earn a Distinguished
Flying Cross and 10 Air Medals and retire as a colonel.

Air Force Staff Sergeant Brian McElroy and Tech Sergeant Jason L. Norton
were military police officers. Unfortunately, they are unable to extend
their military service. Their lives were tragically taken.

Assigned to the 3rd Security Forces Squadron, Elmendorf Air
Force Base, Alaska, Sergeants McElroy and Norton made the supreme
sacrifice when their vehicle struck an IED while on patrol near Taji,
Iraq on January 22, 2006.

“Brian always made us laugh and he always knew when to jump into a
conversation to make us laugh even more. He was a family man and really
enjoyed talking to his wife and kids. His mother gave him a gold cross
that he always wore around his neck to remind him to never lose his
faith,” Staff Sergeant Richard Cleary said during his memorial service.

“He was the best father in the world and I said that before anything
happened,” Cristina Norton said of her husband, Jason.

The two fallen veterans share the same coffin and headstone because
their remains were intermingled from the blast and unidentifiable,
according to an Arlington Cemetery spokeswoman.

But their character is easy to identify. Just look up the word “Hero.”
And it isn’t just the men.

Grace Murray of New York was a curious child. At the age of 7, she
dismantled an alarm clock just to see how it worked. Later, she became
one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I Computer and would
invent the computer language known as COBOL.

The world was fortunate to benefit from the brilliant mind of the woman
known by friends and admirers as “Amazing Grace,” and by the U.S. Navy
as Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.

Although she left us in 1992, we can emphatically say that the world is
a better and smarter place because of Admiral Grace Hopper.

Veterans come in all shapes and sizes. Young and old – rich and poor –
black and white – and nearly every category in between, they are men and
women who served or still serve America.

And their families are diverse as well. We need to remember the spouses
who briefly but anxiously dreaded every doorbell ring or telephone call
as their loved ones witnessed unspeakable horrors while fighting in hard
to pronounce villages that most Americans could never find on a map. We
need to remember the modern military families, who deal with frequent
address changes, interrupted employment by spouses and a
disproportionate sharing of parental responsibilities.

While their numbers are decreasing, too many veterans are still
homeless. As recently as 2014, an estimated 50,000 homeless veterans
were identified in communities around the nation. That is roughly the
population of Galveston, Texas.

Veterans Day is an important but symbolic way of saying thanks. But we
should insist that our elected officials produce meaningful laws and
public policies that will enhance the quality of life for veterans and
their families.

The American Legion is dedicated to remembering the legacy of all
veterans because what these men and women have done for us, matters to
America. It matters to the people overseas who were liberated from
tyranny due to the sacrifices of our military members.

From defeating Communism, Fascism and Imperialism, to liberating slaves,
keeping the peace during the Cold War and battling terrorism today,
veterans have accomplished remarkable things throughout our nation’s
history.

They have preserved the country that we all love so much.

Charles Schmidt is the national commander of the 2.2 million member
American Legion,
www.legion.org.

Contacts

The American Legion
John Raughter, 317-441-8847
jraughter@legion.org