The approach of the holiday season and colder weather brings to mind the plight of our nation’s homeless, especially our veterans. My father, who died when I was very young, was a Purple Heart veteran, and it saddens me to see the poverty and medical care crisis affecting many veterans today. The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs estimates that there are about 1,300 homeless veterans in Oregon every night, with plenty more at risk of being homeless due to lack of support, unemployment, and poverty. They report that veterans are far more likely to be homeless than the general population. Efforts are being made to improve veterans' situation nationwide, and we can all pitch in by donating our time or money through charity groups.
Yet, these laudable acts only provide part of what veterans need. They also deserve recognition and honor from their fellow citizens for their service and sacrifice. It is a matter of collective attitude. This may seem basic, but many Vietnam veterans will tell you that they were treated with disdain, and even contempt, when they returned home from overseas. Our youth must be taught that the reason our nation has a bright, secure future is our armed forces, the pride of the citizenry of this great land. These brave men and women step up and sacrifice so that we can all remain free to follow our dreams. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once remarked, “America is a willingness of the heart.”
This willingness to serve has three critical origins, all of which we should strive to preserve:
• The American Way. First, our country is made of men, women and children who are bound by a deep-seated faith and belief in the American way, which provides the genesis for military service. The springboard for this belief is the Constitution’s guarantee of our fundamental rights. The strong foundation our founding fathers drafted provides the cornerstone for building our future through equal opportunity for all. There is simply no place on earth that a person has a better chance to go from rags to riches if they work hard. But, without the armed forces to defend that Constitution, we could lose our way of life.
• Guiding Light. Second, the willingness of Americans to give generous foreign aid and shine the guiding light of democracy and freedom will become increasingly important as the world shrinks due to instant and global communication technologies. Americans have always tried to stand for what is right, placing their youth in uniform in harm’s way overseas to free the oppressed. There is no doubt that the majority of Americans support our country’s efforts to help others in need around the world. Americans’ natural tendency to do the right thing, combined with keeping our military presence strong worldwide, will retain our position of respect and safety in the future.
• Patriotism. Third, and most importantly, is our patriotism – the lifeblood of our country. Youth should be taught from an early age to love the United States. Patriotism has carried us through many tough times in the past, and has kept our armed services strong. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and 911 were all crucibles that Americans endured by coming together and rallying behind the flag and our veterans.
Lead by Example. The United States we all know and love will continue to be a land of opportunity despite the current foreign threats if we, the people, support and honor our armed forces. This holiday season, please consider volunteering with local homeless assistance organizations or contact the VA Voluntary Service or other veterans’ charities to support and honor our veterans, such as Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit private organization that has built homes in Oregon for severely injured post – 9/11 Veterans, https://www.hfotusa.org/building-homes/map/or/ See also http://woundedwarriorhomes.org.
(Toneata Morgan, Miss Oregon USA 2018, will represent the state at the national Miss USA pageant next spring.)