Acts of Service: Veterans Day calls us to look ahead

A moment of laughter, amidst a solemn occasion, dramatized the new reality of Veterans Day.

While looking at history, and treasuring the service and sacrifice of our veterans, it is important to look ahead, to know what the future holds for a nation that needs to do more to serve those who served — our veterans.

Tom Mann of Oregon Veterans Administration provided that moment of humor when he related the story of a Pacific Ocean naval combat veteran who had two boats shot out from under him in World War II — and only this year requested help from the VA. Mann spoke at Sunday’s Hood River Veteran’s Day service.

“He had sat 17 days in the water, and he wanted hearing aids. I asked his wife, ‘Does he have any trouble sleeping or intrusive thoughts?’ and she said, ‘Are you kidding? I haven’t slept with him since 1949.’”

When the laughter subsided, Mann added, “Her reason was he was thrashing around having nightmares about being in the water with the oil and the fire and the sharks — and he wanted hearing aids. We got him squared away, 65 years later.”

World War II veterans are seeking help for the first time, veterans of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afthanistan are experiencing serious health, social and economic troubles, and people currently enlisted are soon to be coming home in large numbers.

Mann said there are 331,000 veterans in the state; 80,000 of them have used the VA. That’s 250,000 Oregon veterans who don’t have any benefits.

“They never sought them, don’t get them. Can you imagine that? We’ve gotta do a better job, right? Our brothers and sisters are out there and they need our help,” Mann said.

He calls it “the tip of the iceberg,” because the government will release a million veterans in the next five years as they military downsizes.

“We are expecting 30,000 Oregonians to come home. It’s an absolute tsunami coming our way. But I always like to say there’s opportunity in crisis and chaos, because for us, what’s really cool about this generation is they’re coming and they’re seeking.”

Also on Sunday, Down Manor residents gathered in the lobby and enjoyed a decorated cake while hearing memories of war from a number of their fellow residents. With photos, letters and spoken stories, the gathering gave residents, family members and staff the chance to share and to show interest and concern for the experiences of those in their midst.

One woman said she had three family members who served in the military: her husband was in a Navy torpedo bomber unit and was shot down, and an uncle also served in World War II.

“When my son went to Vietnam, you know where my heart was,” she said.

Perhaps the best way to understand the past and future challenges of our veterans is to learn veterans’ stories. You can do that by talking to friends or neighbors who have served, or by arranging to visit veterans at the Oregon Veterans Home in The Dalles (visits by fellow veterans are particularly helpful). Veterans and widows of veterans on hospice care may also enjoy a visit.

The Veterans Services office is always in need of volunteers to assist with paperwork.

It’s about looking back but also looking forward as a nation still at war adjusts to the future challenge of helping those whose service we must always remember and those whose needs we must now anticipate.

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