Saluting the veterans: Senator talks importance of military

American Legion Post 2 Commander Jonathan Riggins salutes as the colors are posted for Wednesday’s Veterans Day Ceremony. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Lamenting the diminishing number of military veterans in the United States, state Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, said now is an important time to honor them and preserve their legacies.

Sen. Paradee, who served as the keynote speaker at American Legion Walter L. Fox Post 2’s Veterans Day Ceremony on Wednesday, also implored veterans to take leadership roles by the reins and speak to the younger generation, telling their stories of warfare, diligence and sacrifice, to inspire the next generation to seek out careers in today’s military.

State Sen. Trey Paradee speaks during Wednesday’s Veterans Day Ceremony at American Legion Post 2 in Dover. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“It has been said many times that our nation is the land of the free only because it is the home of the brave,” Sen. Paradee said. “It is critical to our nation, to the very underpinnings of our democracy, that the younger generation understand just how true that statement is. Without a younger generation of brave men and women willing to step forward and serve our nation in the armed services, there is no future for our great country.

“So I say to you, honoring and celebrating our veterans is vital to our national security. It is, therefore, incumbent upon each of us, veterans and nonveterans, to go forth into our communities and, in our own way, educate the youth, so that they can understand the honor and respect that comes with military service and to hold in the highest regard all of those who have served.”

Sen. Paradee opened his remarks by telling the crowd gathered in the American Legion banquet room that he did not serve in the military but was humbled to speak before those who did.

He said he was fortunate while growing up to have some great role models, including a grandfather who served with the 4th Infantry Division that landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. During the next 199 days, that division was in constant contact with the Germans. He said he also had a great-uncle who served in the Pacific during World War II, as well as during the Korean War. Add to that his two uncles who served during the Vietnam era and a cousin who served in Bosnia.

Sen. Paradee said that just hearing them talk about their service was very influential.

He added that one of the most inspiring people in his life was Jim Thompson, a longtime activist for the veterans’ movement in Kent County who passed away a couple years ago.

“He was my scoutmaster and someone who I really looked up to,” said the senator. “He taught me a lot of lessons, and what he did for the young men of our Scout troop in teaching us the values of our country and teaching them the value of service to our nation was very valuable to all of us.

“One of the things that I’m concerned about in our society is there’s not as many role models to go around as there used to be. There are not as many veterans in elected office as there used to be. Having veterans in elected office is important because they can serve as advocates for all of you veterans throughout our community.”

He added that in the U.S. Congress, roughly 20% of the senators and representatives have military service today, which is down drastically from just a few years ago.

“Those numbers reflect how veterans are treated and how they are viewed in society,” Sen. Paradee said. “These are very concerning trends.”

He noted that out of Delaware’s population of 975,000 people, just over 68,000 are veterans (7%). The U.S. population is roughly 330 million with 18 million veterans (6%), which “has dropped from over 20 million veterans just a few years ago as the ‘greatest generation’ slowly leaves us.”

Gulf War veterans now account for the largest share of all U.S. veterans, surpassing Vietnam veterans in 2016.

“We are slowly but surely becoming a nation where there are fewer and fewer veterans to serve as those role models to young people,” Sen. Paradee said. “Over the past half-century, the number of people on active duty has dropped significantly. There were roughly 3.5 million in the armed services in 1968 during the draft era. Today, there are approximately 1.3 million, which represents less than 1% of all U.S. adults that serve in today’s (post-draft) force.”

The Veterans Day Ceremony at American Legion Post 2 began with a call to order by Post Commander Jonathan Riggins, before the Legion’s color guard posted the colors, and the national anthem was played. Chaplain Robert Tyler said a prayer before the color guard had a gun salute outdoors, while Caleb Seeman of the Sons of the American Legion played taps on his trumpet.

“This is a day when we commemorate the service of veterans of all wars,” Mr. Riggins said. “We remember how men and women set aside civilian pursuits to serve their nation’s cause, defending the freedom of mankind and preserving our precious American heritage. We believe our strength on the field of battle, on the supply lines which nourishes our armed might, lays the justice of our cause against the forces of evil.

“Out of blood and sweat, we learned of purpose, sacrifice, tolerance, bravery and discipline, which are all the foundation stones for how a great nation is built. In our continuing push for honorable world peace, we must cultivate these virtues.”

Several other dignitaries also provided remarks.

“Let us strive to see the same spirit of self-sacrifice as cultivated in peace as has been exhibited in war,” said LaMark Bell, first vice commander of Post 2. “It behooves us to rear new standards of success — to inspire youth and peace as youth was inspired in war. Public honor must be given where public honor is due.

“Let us honor those veterans who carry into ordinary affairs of life a noble idealism and sincere capability for self-devotion. Let us translate a devotion of war into a devotion of peace. Let us will to live, as well as die, for our country.”

Maureen Nunez, a member of Post 2, said that no matter how veterans may differ in race, creed or culture, those who have fought together, suffered together, to achieve a higher goal.

“As we put aside the brown and blue and green fabrics that made us one on the battlefield, we can hold in our minds that tolerance we have achieved,” she said. “In tolerance, there is progress — progress to be a better and happier world.”

Sen. Paradee pointed to all the monuments that dot the landscape of Dover, from the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park to the new statues that line the grounds of Legislative Mall.

He said more needs to be done for veterans — and not just symbolically.

“We must heed the words of President John F. Kennedy that as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them,” Sen. Paradee said. “That means providing veterans with the benefits and opportunities that they deserve, including access to quality health care and long-term care, pensions and opportunities for employment.

“That means not just celebrating our veterans with speeches, monuments and praise, but always having their back and supporting them through legislative initiatives. I’m truly grateful to live in the greatest nation on Earth. I truly understand that I would not be here without all of you (veterans) and others like you, who, over the past 244 years, were willing to take up arms in defense of our nation. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America.”