Finding ways to truly honor those who gave their all

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If you haven't taken time to reflect on the sacrifices our military personnel have made, you probably didn't take in either the visit by the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall or the Memorial Day service closest to your home.

It's a shame if American citizens don't take time to honor those who have made their way of life possible, but truly paying tribute goes far beyond a visit to a display or a trip to the cemetery.

And, the duty to honor fallen veterans isn't limited to those who didn't serve in the military.

Sacrificing for a cause is meaningless if the cause itself is left behind.

That's why it's so important for citizens, veterans and civilians alike, to take advantage of the opportunities our representative form of government offers.

The first is voting; more than 90 million people who were eligible to vote in the 2012 national election didn't bother. While the number of active military personnel requesting absentee ballots increased last year, the turnout among veterans was probably not much better than the population in general.

Military personnel who have fought to defeat dictators and despots should appreciate more than anyone the right of self-determination.

That right extends far beyond voting; veterans and lifetime civilians alike should exercise their freedom of speech to influence decision-makers at all levels of government, from their village government to Washington D.C.

That includes banding together with others through political parties and lobbying efforts to advance worthwhile causes.

Citizens also have a right -- make that a duty -- to seek public office if they have the time and abilities to serve their community. That extends to all offices, from a local school board to Congress.

It's not like there isn't plenty to do; some 575,000 disability claims have been pending longer than 125 days with the Veterans Administration, nearly two-thirds of all claims pending. And, no one works harder to keep America out of unnecessary conflicts than someone who has been wounded or lost friends in one.

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel came under fire, during his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense, for his position on Israel, overcame a filibuster and was eventually confirmed.

Hagel is one example of a veteran who didn't have to put himself in the spotlight of public office, but did so anyway. He volunteered for Vietnam instead of taking a college deferment, received two Purple Hearts as an infantry squad leader and ran for Senate after earning his fortune in the cellular telephone business. He's now the first former enlisted man to to assume the top post in the Pentagon.

Voting, getting involved, letting our opinions be known, running for office or supporting those who will take that step -- those are all steps we can take to truly honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

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