Veterans not only deserve our undying respect and gratitude, but they have earned whatever help we can give them to make the transition to a productive, healthy civilian life, according to featured speakers at two local Veterans Day ceremonies on Sunday.
"We have a moral obligation to offer support and assistance to the defenders of freedom,"Brig. Gen. John F. Wharton, commander of Army Sustainment Command, said during a driving rain at the annual ceremony at Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery.
Many recent veterans spent "three to five years away from their families, their loved ones," he noted. "Support and assistance is a way to say thank you and also an investment in our future."
"We honor veterans for their strength, courage and dedication, leaving us a lasting legacy of strength and service," Gen. Wharton said. We must provide support in return for that selfless service, he said, adding: "When veterans take off that uniform, they continue to contribute to society."
There were 16 million Americans who served in World War II, and many benefited from the GI Bill, housing loans and other assistance."Investing in veterans paid off, having a role in making America stronger and better," Gen. Wharton said. Veterans have "applied the values they learned in the military, like discipline, respect for others and teamwork," and offer an example for the rest of us, he said.
The U.S. has been engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 11 years, and up to 3 million Americans have served, Gen. Wharton said. Ten percent of veterans from these conflicts are unemployed, well above the jobless rate of 6.3 percent for all current veterans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gen. Wharton became ASC commander Sept. 18, and oversees 70,000 employees and contractors supporting troops worldwide. Though he's been here less than two months, he said Sunday he's impressed with how the Arsenal and the region back the military.
"I've been in the military 30 years and moved more than 20 times. I've never seen a community better than the Quad-Cities," Gen. Wharton said. "I've never seen the kind of support you have shown -- the support and respect. Your support is unsurpassed."
"This community of the Quad-Cities really gets it," he added. "I'm proud to be part of this community."
"This rain, this is nothing compared to what our soldiers have to endure," U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, said of Sunday's downpour, which didn't deter dozens from attending.
At the Arsenal and an earlier event on Hero Street, Silvis, Rep. Schilling quoted a 1910 speech of Teddy Roosevelt, saying: "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again,because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause..."
At Hero Street Memorial Park, Brig. Gen. Duane Gamble, the ASC's deputy commanding general, called the Q-C area "the center of gravity of our freedom" and credited Hero Street for the "concentration of the greatest patriotism" in the nation, noting 120 residents of the block have served in the military.
Hero Street is "more than a local treasure, a regional treasure. It is, in fact, a national treasure," Gen. Gamble said. Providing jobs, health care and education for veterans is not only the job of the military and government, but everyone, he said.
"It requires a team approach, with other federal agencies and our local community," Gen. Gamble said. Veterans Day services are one example of that support. "Silvis is a shining example of that support," he said.
"The Army is totally committed to lifelong success of veterans, to transition and re-integrate veterans into civilian life," he said, noting a new law offers tax credits to businesses that hire veterans, he noted.
Rep. Schilling is pushing a bill that would allow veterans to receive covered health care not only at VA hospitals, but any hospital in the U.S., he said.
Robert Neal, of East Moline, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who served from 1986 to 1992, told those gathered at Hero Street: "As a veteran, what I'm asking you to do is, do not honor these men and women just this one day."
For example, pay respect anytime the National Anthem is played, during its 1 minute and 44 seconds., he said. "Is that too much for you to give to the men and women who have given so much more, who volunteered to be put in harm's way?"
Of 21.5 million living veterans, 9.2 million are 65 and older, and 5.1 million are from the first Gulf War to the present, said Brian Munos of East Moline, who grew up on Hero Street and served 20 years in the Navy. As no one in the military has to struggle alone, no veteran should, he said.
Tonio DiPaolo, of Taylor Ridge, an opera singer, sang passionate renditions of the National Anthem, ''Battle Hymn of the Republic," and ''Amazing Grace." and gave closing remarks.
"We cannot forget, they never got a rest," he said of veterans. "They served our country 365 days a year. Let's not just honor them today -- honor them 365 days a year."
Today is Saturday, Aug. 30, the 242nd day of 2014. There are 123 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: A large pair of elk, captured in Iowa, were exhibited in Market Square today. 1889 — 125 years ago: The Rock Island Arsenal dam was being constructed under the supervision of Charles Frances, of Lowell, Mass. 1914 — 100 years ago: Mrs. Frank Mixer, of Rock Island, was the winner of the final preliminary for the women's handicap golf cup at Rock Island arsenal links. 1939 — 75 years ago: Sixteen hundred persons — many from war-fearful Europe — arrived in New York aboard the German liner Bremen. For two days on the trip, passengers were cut off from the world with both incoming and outgoing radio messages banned. 1964 — 50 years ago: Police reported five youths have been involved in the theft of about seven cars in recent weeks. Three of the youths were arrested Saturday afternoon, one was in custody as the result of a previous arrest, and the fifth is expected to be arrested today. 1989 — 25 years ago: The Rock Island/Milan School Board is asking the city to tear down Franklin School and allow the school district to pay back the estimated $100,00 cost during 10 years.