It is a very tragic situation when those brave men and women who have fought for our country in the military do not get enough respect. As a child of the Vietnam War, I saw firsthand how the American public mistreated our vets who returned from that G-d-forsaken place because it was an unpopular conflict in the eyes of many, especially the young who saw no legitimate reason for us to be there in the first place. It didn’t help that many returned addicted to drugs or suffering the ravages of Agent Orange. But our reaction to those military veterans was wrong. We didn’t appreciate their sacrifice and shunned and abandoned them when they needed us the most when they came home.
Although those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have been welcomed better than those from Vietnam, the negative feelings still exist. It’s a shanda. The men and women of our Armed Forces should be celebrated for their bravery, patriotism, allegiance to our country, and commitment to the common good. To add insult to injury, the latest despicable kneeling fiasco that some of the athletes are exhibiting during the singing of the national anthem, especially at the beginning of football games, is insulting our military who go in harm’s way to protect our country and our flag. Disrespecting our flag and our anthem is disrespecting our veterans, especially those who returned to their families with the stars and stripes draped over their coffins.
Throughout the years, many soldiers have paid the ultimate price, but not all of those lucky enough to come home alive, came back unscathed. Many are wounded warriors with lost limbs and suffer post-traumatic stress disorder – all for no fault of their own. They were brave enough to fight our battles for us, and the least we can do is treat them with dignity and do everything as a country to help them rehabilitate and reorient themselves back to civilian life in the States.
As we celebrate Veterans Day, let’s take a minute to recognize the immeasurable contributions and sacrifices our military men and women have made to keep America free. The whole world is a mess. The United States is one of the few countries that guarantee freedoms for all its citizens. It is still a blessed country, in no small measure to our veterans who were willing to risk their lives to keep it that way.
Taking care of our veterans is not a political issue,
but rather a national and moral obligation
Because my father was liberated from Buchenwald by the American Army, he instilled in his children a tremendous appreciation and admiration for GIs. He always took us to view the military parades on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I can still see the light in his eyes as we observed the soldiers marching by. He was indebted to them his entire life for the gift of freedom that they gave him.
We need to especially pay tribute to the American Jewish War Veterans. It wasn’t easy to be in the military as a Jew, particularly in World War II. Anti-Semitism was rampant during the 1930s and during the war itself. Many American isolationists accused “influential” Jews of hoodwinking the country towards war. There was even a movement by certain members of Congress who felt compelled to investigate Hollywood to make sure the “Jewish” film industry was not attempting to prejudice people’s minds against Germany. David S. Wyman noted, in The Abandonment of the Jews, that surveys taken between 1938 and 1941 estimated that between 33 percent and 50 percent of the American public felt Jews had “too much power in the United States.” (Some things never change.)
It is a very sad state of affairs as to what is happening to US veterans today. Many are dying because of delays in diagnosis and treatment in VA hospitals. Simple colonoscopy and endoscopy procedures have been put on the back burners that have placed these men and women at risk. Far too many former soldiers face severe bureaucratic hurdles in order to receive the benefits they rightfully deserve. Shockingly, many dozen have died after being forced to wait months to see a doctor. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has, in the past, too often failed to adequately connect former military service members with the health care they need, including for mental illness. There are even reports that some vets have committed suicide while they were “stuck in quicksand” waiting for care.
Taking care of our veterans is not a political issue, but rather a national and moral obligation. We owe them that much. Our freedoms should never be taken for granted. We must be thankful to all of those who fought and risked their lives to give us those rights. G-d bless America, and G-d bless those who fought to secure our liberty.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org