Monument to Middle East veterans unveiled in Dover

DOVER — Those who fought in World War II are known as the Greatest Generation. Vietnam veterans, many of whom were treated poorly upon their return home from an unpopular war, have since been recognized and honored.

In contrast, there is not always as much celebration for the men and women who took part in America’s more recent wars, conflicts based in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Saturday, with Veterans Day just four days away, Delaware honored all its veterans, particularly those who served in the Middle East.

Undaunted by the weather, hundreds of people gathered in Dover to celebrate the citizens who make up the U.S. military. A morning parade consisting of more than 65 groups was followed by a noon unveiling of a new monument on the east side of Legislative Hall.

Dedicated to Middle East veterans, the memorial joins similar statues and markers around the capitol in recognizing military members.

The parade and the ceremony were organized by a partnership of the General Assembly, Dover, the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs, the Delaware National Guard, the Downtown Dover Partnership and veterans’ groups.

More than a dozen state officials were present for the unveiling, while many veterans and their families sat in the crowd.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Captain Robin Gibbs of the U.S. Navy Reserve Nurse Corps. A 22-year veteran who has served in Afghanistan, she spoke of the difference she hoped she made in the Middle East.

“Years from now, if even one child remembers the Americans who came to help, that one child may be the one who makes a difference for their country, and that is, and continues to be, my prayer for the people of Afghanistan,” she said.

Speakers pledged to always uphold their promises to those who fought for the United States and to remember their country’s servicemen and servicewomen.

“We should have no homeless veterans. We should have no jobless veterans,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del, said to applause.

Twenty-one Delawareans died in the Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

“Any person that raises their hand, swears allegiance to their country and wears their uniform are forever brothers and sisters,” said state Sen. William Carson, D-Smyrna, quoting U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

Sen. Carper, himself a Navy veteran, drew laughs from the crowd by comparing himself to Capt. Gibbs.

“Senator, Dover High School Senator,” he said, referencing first himself and then Capt. Gibbs.

Mostly, though, Saturday’s ceremony had a dignified air about it. Veterans from conflicts ranging from World War II to the Iraq War made up much of the audience. Many wore their uniforms or other apparel stating their service, making it clear what the purpose of the event was.

Applause was frequent, and several veterans were singled out and personally thanked by speakers.

State Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, called for Americans to continue standing behind soldiers, regardless of whether or not citizens agree with the politics behind the conflicts. Speakers pledged to never forget the contributions of men and women in the U.S. military, calling to mind the principle behind Vietnam Veterans of America: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

Sen. Carper praised President George H. W. Bush for his response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, leading to the Gulf War in 1990. He also called the War in Afghanistan a challenging and lengthy but “just” war, noting it was undertaken to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

After about an hour of speeches, the monument — three blocks of granite inscribed with words and images in honor of men and women who served, particularly those who lost their lives — was unveiled. While it may be dedicated as a remembrance, it is “also a nod to our future,” Gov. Jack Markell said.

Constant themes of sacrifice were echoed by speakers, calling to mind the famous line of “All gave some, some gave all.”

“I served with many who deployed three, four, sometimes five times, and I couldn’t understand for a moment how they continued to do it, but now I do,” Capt. Gibbs said. “Most importantly, every moment out there is about the safety and the support of that solider and that sailor who is serving next to you in defense of the ideals of our country. They are our family away from home.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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