The battle continues for millions of American veterans, whether they saw action in a war zone, or just “stood in the gap.” It is a battle that they are waging back on their home turf – for military benefits, and for recognition and respect.
That was the heart of the message delivered by Chuck Palmer who was the guest speaker at the Manteca Veterans Day ceremonies on Tuesday at the Manteca Library Park. He ran down some statistics to clarify his point.
Of the 23.2 million military veterans today , he said, 9.2 million are over 65 years old, 1.9 million are under the age of 35, 1.8 million are women, 7.8 million served in the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1975 and who represents 33 percent of all living veterans, 5.2 million fought in the Persian Gulf War from 2003 to the present, 2.6 million are veterans of World War II from 1941 to 1945, 6 million are veterans in peace time as of 2008, and 2.8 million have received compensation with California having the largest at 2.1 million.
“There’s more to the story than facts,” Palmer said about the benefits, or lack thereof, for veterans who are struggling with myriad problems – unemployment, homelessness, health, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), just to name a few.
“Really, America, is this what we promised our veterans? These are the men and women who stood up in harm’s way and died for our freedom,” said Palmer whose own son, Marine Cpl Charles O. Palmer II, was killed during the Operation Iraqi Freedom on May 5, 2007.
While there have been some improvements in recent years compared to the way it was decades ago, “we know there’s a lot of work still to be done.” And for many veterans, “their battle will continue,” he said.
“It would have been nice to recognize” the many health issues suffered by the soldiers who came home after serving in Vietnam with problems such as PTSD and complications caused by their exposure to Agent Orange, said Palmer who is, himself, a veteran.
Two years ago, when a proposal was made to cut military personnel’s pay and their benefits, veterans and their supporters raised a strong protest and succeeded. “That’s the kind of battle that we’ll always continue to fight. Our veterans will have to continue the battle” for the government benefits that they deserve, he said.
“Wake up, America. These veterans have put their lives on the line. They all deserve the honor and respect that they should get,” he added.
To all veterans both living and dead, Palmer said, “Thank you. We can’t honor you enough. This day is for you.”
He concluded his message by reminding everyone to “let people know that this is Veterans Day, shake the hand of an American hero, thank him. A thank you and handshake is very much appreciated.”
The Veterans Day ceremony at the Library Park was hosted by the McFall-Grisham American Legion Post 249 and the Jimmie Connors Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6311 of Manteca. Others who made the program possible included Post 249 1st Vice Commander Bob Gonzales who served as emcee, the Manteca Unified School District JROTC Color Guard, Post 249 chaplain Art Averitt, Courtney Grant who sang the National Anthem, and Rodney McCleary who played Taps at the conclusion of the ceremonies.