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NEWS | Nov. 8, 2016

Veterans; America’s true melting pot

By Charles E. Schmidt The American Legion

Carl Johnson’s life matters. Johnson, a veteran now living in Virginia, was the last Tuskegee Airman to graduate from the famed school that produced so many heroic African American aviators.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Army issued Johnson a train ticket for a Pullman sleeping car so he could get from Texas to Alabama for his military training in 1946.

Johnson recalled being told by the station manager that he and his fellow black soldiers were not allowed to use the Pullman. “You have to go in coach,” they were ordered.

Threatened with jail if they resisted, the soldiers rode for 24 hours and were denied the use of the train’s dining car as well. Despite the indignities, Johnson would continue to treat his country better than many of his fellow citizens treated him. Proud soldier that he was, Johnson would extend his military service for another three decades, serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He would earn a Distinguished Flying Cross and 10 Air Medals and retire as a colonel.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian McElroy and Tech. Sgt.  Jason L. Norton were military police officers. Unfortunately, they are unable to extend their military service. Their lives were tragically taken.

Assigned to the 3rd Security Forces Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, Sergeants McElroy and Norton made the supreme sacrifice when their vehicle struck an Improvised Explosive Device while on patrol near Taji, Iraq on Jan., 22, 2006.

"Brian always made us laugh and he always knew when to jump into a conversation to make us laugh even more. He was a family man and really enjoyed talking to his wife and kids. His mother gave him a gold cross that he always wore around his neck to remind him to never lose his faith,” Staff Sergeant Richard Cleary said during his memorial service.

“He was the best father in the world and I said that before anything happened,” Cristina Norton said of her husband, Jason.

The two fallen veterans share the same coffin and headstone because their remains were intermingled from the blast and unidentifiable, according to an Arlington Cemetery spokeswoman.

But their character is easy to identify. Just look up the word “Hero.” And it isn’t just the men.

Grace Murray of New York was a curious child. At the age of 7, she dismantled an alarm clock just to see how it worked. Later, she became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I Computer and would invent the computer language known as COBOL.

The world was fortunate to benefit from the brilliant mind of the woman known by friends and admirers as “Amazing Grace,” and by the U.S. Navy as Rear Adm. Grace Hopper.

Although she left us in 1992, we can emphatically say that the world is a better and smarter place because of Adm. Grace Hopper.

Veterans come in all shapes and sizes. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white and nearly every category in between, they are men and women who served or still serve America.

And their families are diverse as well. We need to remember the spouses who briefly but anxiously dreaded every doorbell ring or telephone call as their loved ones witnessed unspeakable horrors while fighting in hard to pronounce villages that most Americans could never find on a map. We need to remember the modern military families, who deal with frequent address changes, interrupted employment by spouses and a disproportionate sharing of parental responsibilities.

While their numbers are decreasing, too many veterans are still homeless. As recently as 2014, an estimated 50,000 homeless veterans were identified in communities around the nation. That is roughly the population of Galveston, Texas.

Veterans Day is an important but symbolic way of saying thanks. But we should insist that our elected officials produce meaningful laws and public policies that will enhance the quality of life for veterans and their families.

The American Legion is dedicated to remembering the legacy of all veterans because what these men and women have done for us, matters to America. It matters to the people overseas who were liberated from tyranny due to the sacrifices of our military members.

From defeating Communism, Fascism and Imperialism, to liberating slaves, keeping the peace during the Cold War and battling terrorism today, veterans have accomplished remarkable things throughout our nation’s history.

They have preserved the country that we all love so much.