Today is Flag Day, June 14th. A day to show respect for the symbol of our country: the “Stars and Stripes”, “Old Glory”. Our flag is more than a unique design – America was the first nation to use a five-pointed star as early as 1777 – it is a representation of those who fly it. “The things that the flag stands for were created by the experiences of a great people. Everything that it stands for was written by their lives,” said Woodrow Wilson. Nowhere is his description more personally written and sacrificially lived than in the blood, sweat and tears of our military, veterans and their families.
It is also the 237th birthday of our largest military force, America’s army. Over 3 million soldiers, families and civilians make up what Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, calls the “Strength of the Nation.” That strength comes from a rich heritage of honor, loyalty, bravery and the noble calling to service and sacrifice not only on the battlefield but in the provision of humanitarian support and security to those in need.
The U.S. Army is the cornerstone of the world’s highest quality all-volunteer force. With its sister services, it has proven itself beyond worthy of the flag it carries and defends. While the exceptional performance of this all-volunteer force (less than one percent of this country’s citizens) is worthy of personal honor, it has come at great personal cost. This cost is very evident to me as I prepare to accompany two special friends – a surviving soldier and a soldier’s surviving widow – to the “In Memory Day” ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Today, as every year, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund honors those who have died as a result of the Vietnam War, but whose deaths do not fit the Department of Defense criteria for inclusion upon “the Wall.” This ceremony helps bring closure to the many families who grieve their loved ones death as “silent casualties.”
Terry will be there to remember friends. He is remarkable, not for his trademark eye patch and metal hook, but for his warm and optimistic way of encouraging leadership. His valor in battle earned his country’s deserved recognition (the Distinguished Service Cross) and the respect of all who know him. Praised by then-Secretary of Defense William Perry as a person whose life is “marked by a deep and profound desire to serve his country,” Terry’s sense of service pervades his every waking hour, whether walking the halls of the Pentagon or Congress as an advocate for others, or comforting another veteran during one of his many extended inpatient stays at either Walter Reed or Bethesda.
Jean will be there to remember a husband. Her selflessness is inspiring. Though disabled herself, she cared for her husband Bob, a decorated soldier who twice served his country and whose death the VA acknowledged was “service connected due to non-small cell cancer of the lung and brain” (Bob was exposed to herbicide in Vietnam and classified 100% disabled). From the day of his diagnosis with stage 4 terminal cancer, through daily radiation treatments at the VA Medical Center 100 miles from their home until his death in 2007, Jean served as his devoted and loving caregiver, bearing the major responsibility for his physical and psychological care 24/7.
Terry and Jean had their lives forever changed by the experience of Vietnam, yet their sacrificial service continues to model the values of our flag and commemorate the character and commitment that makes our Army strong. They provide a much-needed example at this critical time in history. As U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki has so aptly said, “we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning Veterans. …[to] …ensure that all Veterans have access to quality care.”
Today, let’s remember that patriotism is more than waving a flag; that it is not simply the responsibility of those who volunteer to wear the uniform or their families who also serve. Patriotism is truly, as Adlai Stevenson once said, the “steady dedication of a lifetime” and a dedication to service and to sacrifice.
Lynda Davis is a soldier’s mother. She was a soldier and the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy.