I sincerely appreciate Chapter 499 Vietnam Veterans asking me to speak this afternoon as part of the Vietnam Veterans’ Recognition Day Program. This is the seventh time that I have had the honor of speaking at this event. More importantly, it is a tremendous privilege to have worked on a constant basis with the Vietnam Veterans of Chapter 499 and all of our veterans and veteran organizations, on issues that affect veterans and their families in New Bedford and throughout our nation.
Today I speak as a citizen of New Bedford and the United States. First, I want to once again recognize the tremendous service the military men and women who served in the Vietnam War provided to the United States of America. They gave their supreme effort in the name of our country. They fought gallantly for America’s concept of freedom and democracy, in a war that the policymakers in Washington never truly defined or understood.
The men and women who served in Vietnam and in South East Asia, and those who served during the Vietnam War era returned home to a country that, as a whole, did not embrace its sons and daughters. In the face of an apathetic and in some cases a hostile public, the Vietnam Veterans of America stood up for the contribution made to America by all Vietnam Veterans, and for all veterans who served before them. They elevated the dialogue regarding the standing of veterans in our society. They demanded respect for the sacrifices of our young service men and women. They educated our public about the effects of modern day warfare on those who serve. They pioneered and insisted on the best medical and physiological treatment for our veterans and their families. They fought for educational, employment and housing opportunities for our service personnel. They made us all realize that as citizens we have a solemn duty to support our troops, regardless of whether we support a specific political leader or a national, or military policy. In short, they made us proud of our troops, and proud to be Americans, and this fundamental concept of patriotism carries through our nation today.
The essence of America’s democracy is to honor the men and women who serve with valor, to honor those who preserve our liberties. In the past year the members of Chapter 499 have been true to their calling just like every year since they entered military service. They have been front and center on all veteran issues, supporting veterans and their families throughout the region. So once again, our community offers a simple but profound thank you to our Vietnam Veterans and Chapter 499.
Now let’s turn to today, March 25, 2012, Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day, we find history, which we all study intently, is repeating itself. We are involved in a war in Afghanistan that has lost its focus, objectives, and mission. We have had our fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and neighbors in Afghanistan for over ten years. Our troops have successfully accomplished a great deal in meeting our goal of strengthening the Free World’s ability to fight the terrorist threat and prevent terrorist attacks. But the war is no longer appropriate in its military mission or in its attempt to support or complement Afghan nation building.
Our country’s military personnel deserves better than to be placed in a very dangerous position, in a holding pattern, while they wait for a specific withdrawal date. The American military has served with tremendous honor. We have men and women of the highest character, integrity and courage who are wearing the colors of the United States. They have protected the Afghan government and its citizens while exposing themselves to great harm. In far too many cases, our men and women have been killed, critically wounded, or disabled for life.
We mourn the losses and pledge to care for our wounded, but as we reflect on this war, just as we did during the Vietnam War, we ask as a nation: For what purpose are we still there? History has taught America that when we ask this question, and the answer does not further our country’s national interest, then it is time to bring all of our troops home.
The Vietnam Veterans can understand and explain the dynamic of the war in Afghanistan, better than any other veterans in our country’s history. They lived through the final stages of a war that had no realistic or achievable objective. As we rotate our troops in and out of Afghanistan, waiting for a political draw down date — let us ask, are we compromising our troops’ safety with depleted equipment, lack of supplies, lack of technical and logistical support, and lack of political conviction? No young Americans should continue to be deployed to carry out a politically motivated exit strategy. If it has been decided to withdraw, then we must expedite the withdrawal and bring all of our young men and women home. It is time to leave Afghanistan. It is time for the Afghans to handle their own security and national affairs. United States military boots on the ground may be necessary in the future, but never as occupiers. Every Nation must know, including the future government of Afghanistan, that our country has, and will always, defend liberty and our national interests. We will, when justified, be the aggressor in the name of freedom. The attacks of September 11, 2001, have taught all of us a clear lesson — we must and will strike first when the lives of Americans or our allies are imperiled.
When our troops come home, welcome them as the heroes they are. They successfully fought the war on terror, and as a result of their efforts our continued national resolve on the war on terror will be unrelenting. When our troops return to their hometowns, as we have learned from the Vietnam Veterans, medical and physiological treatment must be the finest, and readily available. Long waiting times and impersonal voicemail responses are unacceptable. Jobs and education must be waiting as well. The veterans’ complete integration within our society must be our goal. We must provide our veterans’ families with full and continued support while our military personnel are at home or abroad.
We enjoy our freedoms, our liberties under God, because of our young men and women who serve and wear the colors of the United States. We owe them a debt in real terms, with tangible programs which will signify our everlasting gratitude.
Say a prayer for the safety of our troops and for all the veterans, and again, let’s prepare to welcome our sons and daughters home.
Thank you for asking me to speak.