Veterans build for the future
WINNING VOICE OF DEMOCRACY SPEECH
Austria 1944. It was a grey morning, still damp from the rain storm the previous night…and there was a shed. It was about three stories tall, but only about 8 feet wide and 8 feet long. It was faded and falling apart and the roof was caving in and there was blood seeping out from around the edges on the ground. Inside this shed were stacks of bodies. Once handsome men, now deformed and degraded into shells of their former selves. Some were wearing only sacks, some had no eye lids, and the saddest part? They couldn’t have had the mercy of a quick death. These human beings had taken weeks to die. I remember Carl Pacini, one of the first men to discover a concentration camp, describing all these things to me and crying. Almost 70 years ago, and he still can’t sleep through the night without nightmares. And yet… I sleep safely each night. How unfair is that?
My little sister asked me, “what’s a veteran?” I told her the only answer I had. “A hero.” “What color is his cape?” “Well, some hero’s don’t wear capes.” “Like grandpa?” “Yeah…like grandpa.”
My Grandpa was drafted into the Vietnam war, and when he came home, they yelled at him and his fellow veterans. The crowds of people spat on them as they walked to their taxi cabs. And so a couple weeks ago, I sat at his funeral and then the guns rang 3 loud shots. It was the most final thing I had ever heard. And then Taps sounded throughout the room, and it was really the respect he should have gotten the moment he stepped off that plane back 1973.
There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. The veterans have kept America safe since the day the military branches were created, they’ve protected and defended my unalienable rights and they don’t even know me. America has been victorious in every major war because of the Veterans. It’s because of them; we are a democracy for the people by the people. It is because of them in Iwo Jima, when the dust cleared, it was OUR flag still standing. No one else’s. They aren’t important to our history, because they are our history.
Our future… we wouldn’t even have one without them. I can’t predict what’s going to happen, if I did, I would be rich. But the veterans will be here to lead and guide the soldiers in my generation- the future veterans. I am so grateful to look around me and see that my friends, even now, are already preparing for the front lines of battle. I have five personal friends, months from graduation, that are already enlisted. And some day when my own future daughter does the V.F.W speech, and she will, she will be telling the stories of my generation and the one before and how her great uncle was one of the green berets, and her grandpa was an accomplished sniper, and how her great grandpa was in the Vietnam war. And she got all of this pride, from her mother.
I picked up a newspaper recently and found a name in the obituaries that I never wanted to see. Carl Pacini died at age 89, 7 days after my birthday this year, and just 2 days before his 90th birthday. I’m so proud of my friend, my veteran. This speech was for you.
Veterans from across the state convened in Fallon on Saturday to learn about issues facing current and former servicemen and women and to honor state youth winners in the Voice of Democracy and Patriots Pen essay contests.
Fallon’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1002 and its Ladies Auxiliary hosted the mid-winter conference at the convention center.
John A. Biedrzycki Jr., senior vice commander-in-chief for the VFW, commended the attendees and their work in resolving issues for veterans.
“We are here for a specific reason, and that’s to be together to learn and exchange information and put it into action when you go back to your districts and posts,” said Biedrzycki, who spent 35 years as a teacher in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area.
Biedrzycki served in the U.S. Army in the Republic of Korea in the late 1960s for three years. He said veteran issues and problems now have changed from when many of the state’s veterans served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam.
“We need to watch which window we’re looking through when helping our veterans,” he said, adding each generation of veterans serves as mentors to the newest veterans, specifically those men and women who served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’ll take the information we learn today and put it into practices.”
Kat Miller, a retired Army colonel who heads up the Nevada Office of Veterans Service, said veterans and civilians have specific roles. She related a story of a civilian who never served in the military thanking Miller in 2010 for her service. On the contrary, Miller said she also thanked the man for the role he plays.
“Our job in the military is creating that tradition of safety and hold that line to make sure people live and those countries exist,” she said.
Miller pointed out the military creates a condition of safety and security so professionals such as teachers and scientists can perform their jobs.
“We all play a role, and the role our military plays is critical,” she added.
Additionally, Miller said her department is offering free online courses for individuals who would like to be Nevada Service officers and assist veterans with information on topics such as veterans programs, housing loans, forms and education.
Miller introduced Wendy Simons, who has been working on the need for a Northern Nevada Veterans Home in Reno. So far, the Veterans Administration has designated $36 million to the project, and the state legislature has to approve $14 million for the facility, which would be located north of the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services.
Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City currently serves the state but doesn’t have enough beds.
“We have a 370-bed shortage in Northern Nevada for veterans,” Simons said.
She added many veterans are sent out of state to Sacramento and Fresno, Calif., and to Idaho.
Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. thanked the veterans for their service and told of his father serving in World War II and how the Fallon community supports the local VFW post and Ladies Auxiliary.
Wanda Wilson of Fallon, president of the state’s VFW Ladies Auxiliary, said nationally, the auxiliary has raised almost $12 million for veterans and family support, hospital projects and items and cancer aid and research. She said $175,000 was awarded to scholarship winners.
“We promote our programs and what we do,” said Wilson, who has been a member for 15 years.
David Sousa, state VFW commander, also touted the generosity and work put in by VFW members. He said the VFW and ladies auxiliary have completed the first six months of the national program year.
“I would like to provide you an update about our community service programs as compiled by the national community service department,” he said.
The information was obtained from department reports that indicated post and ladies auxiliary activities which were completed between May 1 and Oct. 31, 2014.
Sousa said Nevada donated $166,704.71, 43,503 volunteer hours and total miles driven in dollar amount of more than $980,000. He said the total amounted to $1.1 million given to veterans from their community projects for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of United States.
Sousa, though, said another major goal of VFW — both nationally and in Nevada — is to increase its membership because of the declining population of older veterans.
“The newer vets are taking their time coming in,” Sousa said. “Some don’t feel a sense of belonging, so we need to bridge the gap. It’s a matter of time. We’re starting to see a change in the mentality of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.”
Sousa said age difference, however, seems to be a major division because many VFW members are in their 60s and 70s, with the younger vets in their 20s and 30s.
“The general difference is also a culture dynamic with the younger and older vets, but we are trying to entice the younger vets in,” Sousa said.
The VFW annually recognizes top classroom elementary, junior high and high school teachers who teach citizenship education topics and promote America’s history, traditions and institutions. The three state winners are Denise Hoy, K-5, Grant Bowler Elementary School, Overton; Kami Ahlin, grades 6-8, Spring Creek Middle School; and Kelly Frost, a high school teacher from Fallon.
The Patriots Pen state winner attends Eureka Junior/Senior High School. Alia Minoletti represented District 2, Post 8194. Besides winning a cash prize, she’s going to also attend a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C.
MacKenzie Lehman of Elko won the state competition in the VFW’s Voice of Democracy speech contest. He will also travel to Washington, D.C. Other contestants included Amber Spinuzzi, Yerington; Olivia Faselt, Faith Lutheran, Las Vegas; Meggan Rowley, Damonte Ranch, Reno; Jordanne Pena, Mineral County High School, Hawthorne and Jonathon Reid, home school, Las Vegas.
A copy of MacKenzie Lehman’s Voice of Democracy speech can be found with this story on the LVN website.