Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Are you an Honorable Recipient of Freedom?

I know it's not a holiday - but I was taken with the writing and the sentiments of this article published in the newsletter of a veteran's group.

My brother is a disabled Viet Nam veteran - yesterday was his birthday, and he gave me a present! He wrote this article for South West Arizona Stand Down, a veteran's group in which he volunteers. He wrote this in response to some folks in his town who were saying unpleasant things about a homeless person.

Are you an Honorable Recipient of Freedom?

by William J. Thornton

In America, on any given night there are as many as 275,000 American Military veterans without a place to sleep. Nearly all have Honorable Discharges from Military Service to our country defending our freedoms. 23 to 40% of all the homeless persons in America are veterans of military service. Nearly 500,000 veterans experience homelessness every year. Many are veterans of the War on Terrorism. You’ve seen them here in town.

They are the few, the proud, the soldiers, sailors and airmen that suffer from flashbacks and nightmares from their war experiences. Others are crippled, disfigured and helpless. None will ever be well again. Many will never get better.

What’s the government doing about all this? Our current administration has tried to cut their benefits, deny them mental health care, and can only provide beds for about 10% of the veterans sleeping on our streets.

Would you appreciate it if a complete stranger were willing to listen to your concerns without being judgmental? How would it feel if your life were a mess, and someone you don’t even know offered to help? Ever been hungry and wished you had a simple meal? Ever seen someone on the street in filthy rags, and wondered how it would feel if you could hand them fresh clean clothes, then point them toward a shower? Would it matter if he’d saved your son’s life in combat?

Could you spare ten minutes of your time once a year to listen to a veteran who had fought for your own freedoms? Would you be big enough to serve that veteran a meal?
Could you be appreciative enough to shake that veteran’s hand? Could you smile into his empty eyes?

The men and women who earned your freedoms appreciate these small gestures.

If you don’t care about the men and women who fought for your freedom, just stop reading this letter and throw it away.

This isn’t a government issue. It’s a local community issue. These veterans live in your town, on your streets and in your doorways. They dive in your dumpsters, and beg for your change. They exist in the midst of folks living the American Dream, like you. They are ignored, shunned and cursed as lazy, worthless and shiftless. “They’re filthy, no-good bums.” ‘They expect something for nothing”. We hear this everyday from people who take their freedoms for granted.

We’ll go to the Veteran’s Day Parade and wave a flag on the curb. We’ll wear red, white and blue. We’ll eat hot dogs on the Fourth of July, and drink beer. Then we’ll forget those who gave so much that we could enjoy these freedoms.

Just once, see if you have what it takes inside to be an Honorable Recipient of Freedom.

Look into the face of a veteran, if you dare. Try to convince him that what he’s done really means something to you, personally. War gets pretty personal when you’re out there in it. Can you return the favor, or do you just take it for granted that you deserve these sacrifices?

Just once, make a difference in the life of one veteran. Just tell a veteran, any veteran, “Welcome home”… and really mean it. Shake his or her hand. Dare to show them you appreciate their sacrifices.

Show respect for those who earned your liberties.

Be an Honorable Recipient of Freedom.

I am a 100% disabled Vietnam Veteran. I remember 9/11. I’ve stood before the awesome spectacle of Rolling Thunder at Arlington, and I cried at Veterans Memorial Park in Washington, DC. I led the Pledge of Allegiance at George Washington’s Tomb and I fell to my knees at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. If a simple veteran can do this much in appreciation for his brothers and sisters, why can’t you?

Today, I serve my fellow veterans in any way I can, because I can. Because it’s right.

What have you done for a veteran today?

---William J. Thornton

South West Arizona Stand Down is a non-profit Association serving veterans of Yuma, LaPaz and Mohave Counties, Arizona, and may be contacted at (928) 503-0552

My brother - he's a good brother and a good writer, too. I'm very proud of him.

(If you wish to reprint this, you may as long as you reprint it in its entirety and give the author his credit.)


Well, obviously, my brother is top o' the list today. Actually, today he's all Three Beautiful Things rolled into one... happy birthday, Bill!


Vic Burton said...

Thanks for you and Bill for letting another proud vet reprint his words.

Kate Thornton said...

And thank you for serving, too Vic - and for reprinting my brother's words in your blog. I really liked your suggestions about required reading!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

One of the bests posts on the web. My brother is also a Viet Nam vet on disability.

Kate Thornton said...

Sue Ann! How nice to hear from you! Thanks for your nice words, and thanks to your brother, too. Hugs & kisses!

DMH said...

My father was a vet (noncombat). I wanted you to know how moving your brother's words were.

Bernita said...

I sometimes blame this neglect on an attitude which begins with a certain dehumanizing of soldiers - they are "cannon fodder" ( that archaic term is still in use) or they must have some violent gene as war lovers.
Freedom is never free.
Thank you, Kate.
I have two in uniform.

Kate Thornton said...

DMH - thank you for your kind words, and many thanks to your father.

Bernita - I think you have it exactly, and the very core of being able to enact violence on other human beings of all kinds depends on de-humanization. And thank you and yours, too.

December/Stacia said...

Happy birthday Bill! What a lovely essay.

The 15th was my grandfather's birthday, and it's my niece's too.

Kate Thornton said...

Hi, Stacia! Nice to see you - Thank you for the kind words. And Happy Birthday to all who share that mid-August time!

forthevets said...

Thank you so much for your kind and understanding words.

I am Kate's brother, Bill. I am Chairman and Coordinator of South West Arizona Stand Down, a non-profit Association of veterans and thier families who care for veterans in need and homeless veterans of Yuma, LaPaz and Mohave Counties in Arizona. Each year in March we have a three day Class A Stand Down Event wherein we provide services and resources for these vets that they might improve the quality of thier lives. It's quite a large event for only being three years old. We're involved in a new project called CAMP ALPHA wherein we will establish a 30 acre permanent home for these veterans.
We're currently in negotiations with BLM for the land, and State Senator Amanda Aguirre, Congressman Raul Grijalva and Representative Lynne Pancrazi all of Yuma, are helping us to make this a reality. Please feel free to come spend a few days with our vets, or visit a Stand Down in your area. There are over 200 such events nation-wide.

This just in: The US Department of Veterans Affairs has no provisions for hospice for the over 90,000 veterans dying in America of terminal conditions.
Most of these conditions are service-connected, and these vets are mostly dying in VA facilities which are under-staffed, under-funded, and have poorly trained staff working for meager wages.
Doesn't it seem our vets deserve better? Can you go to a VA hospital and hold a lonely dying vet's hand in his final moments?
Could you show him that much respect? Imagine the feeling you'd carry for the rest of your own life.