Thursday, March 27, 2008

"We need more programs, not more memorial stones"

A good friend of mine — a Special Forces soldier and combat veteran — said something powerful to me about the flag controversy in Sisters.

He's recently gone back to school with an eye to a second career helping veterans. His campus veterans group suggested proposing a memorial. He suggested that the group, the school and the veterans would be better served by creating a "transitions" class for young veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq who are returning to a school environment.

The idea took root and a 1.5 hour-per-week course has been set up with help from VA transition counselors, career counselors and a range of other professionals and guest speakers who will help the veterans make a smooth transition back into civilian life.

My friend has dedicted a memorial or two in his time, but he believes that right now there are more substantive and important ways to show support of veterans, better ways to expend energy than challenging other peoples' patriotism.

"We need more programs," he told me, "not more memorial stones."

Maybe we should think of ways to turn the energy devoted to this argument over a flagpole toward helping veterans in the Central Oregon area. Just a thought.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. I have grown weary of this obsession with symbols (i.e. flags)that some people seem to have. And I also harbor a measure of resentment that I would be judged as unpatriotic because I see no need for the city to pay for another one in this town. I see an ad in the paper for donations, to be sent to the VFW I believe, for this memorial. My charitable dollars will not go to pay for another memorial...instead they will be sent to an organizationin Central Oregon that will do something like what your friend has done...any ideas where that might be?

  2. Google Central Oregon Veterans Outreach. It's a good outfit.

  3. Both the VFW and American Legion are steeped with programs. Read the following and/or visit their websites.

    About the VFW

    The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, with its Auxiliaries, includes 2.3 million members in approximately 8,400 Posts worldwide.

    Its mission is to "honor the dead by helping the living" through veterans' service, community service, national security and a strong national defense.

    The VFW traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service: Many arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veterans' pension for them,and they were left to care for themselves.

    In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations with what would become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. After chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1915, membership grew to 5,000; by 1936, membership was almost 200,000.

    Since then, the VFW's voice had been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 20th century, the development of the national cemetery system and the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome. The VFW also has fought for improving VA medical centers services for women veterans.

    Besides helping fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II and Women in Military Service memorials, the VFW in 2005 became the first veterans' organization to contribute to building the new Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial, which is being constructed in Washington, D.C., and is expected to open in 2010.

    In 2001, VFW unveiled its tribute to service and country with its dedication of Centennial Plaza.

    Annually, VFW members and its Auxiliary contribute more than 13 million hours of volunteerism in the community, including participation in Make A Difference Day and National Volunteer Week.

    From providing $2.5 million in college scholarships to high school students every year to encouraging elevation of the Veterans Administration to the president's cabinet, the VFW is there--honoring the dead by helping the living.

    You can find out more about the VFW at:

    About the American Legion

    The American Legion has four pillars of service and a vision for a strong America: A Strong National Security, Taking Care of Veterans, Mentoring Youth, Promoting Patriotism and Honor.

    You can find out more about the American Legion at:

  4. Councilman Merrill also had a good idea, instead of focusing on symbols, drive a vet to Veterans Hospital in Portland or help out with a task at their home they might not be able to perform. Honoring the veterans is not just an old boy's club where people look at the flag and pat each other on the back while saying aren't we loyal and patriotic.

  5. "Councilman Merrill also had a good idea, instead of focusing on symbols, drive a vet to Veterans Hospital in Portland or help out with a task at their home they might not be able to perform."

    You can do both.

    A flag in the park AND a helping hand. "...focusing on symbols..." AND " a vet to Veterans Hospital..."

    Merrill's answer was just a verbal dodge; insincere at best. As if he knows who is doing what as far as helping the vets.

  6. And, in the profound words of Councilman Merrill, "Once your dead, your dead." (as quoted from the Saturday Bend Bulletin)

  7. Local programs are what are needed by our returning veterans from the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT), which includes campaigns Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

    Further, these should be kinetic programs sponsored by the community-at-large to include business, faith-based, and social.

    For example, a Sisters based reemployment program staffed and resourced by volunteers from this community working in conjunction with regional advocates / resources such as the VFW, the County Veterans Officer, the DAV, Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, and the ESGR and the VA.

    Such a kinetic, or living program would welcome GWOT veterans home, help them reconnect with their civilian lives and occupations with the least amount of administrative hurdles, encourage and reward local employers to hire returned veterans, arrange for transition classes for the veterans, their families, and their employers, and in doing so truly bring the service man and woman back into the community in a proactive, dignified, and productive manner.

    This of course requires Vision, Leadership, Funding, Teamwork, Time, and Hard Work. But it is a long term, big picture reinvestment in the community and one that more than brick, mortar, cloth or stone honors those who served in time of war.

    Build living memorials of a community and a nation's respect and gratitude through every veteran helped by a program such as the example provided above.

    And in doing so cement Patriotism in your heart and soul through manifested action and not simply poetic words.