In the swirl around whether the Congress, the president, the VA or whoever else people are pointing fingers at about why the families of fallen service members were cut off from death benefits, something more important has gotten lost. The one reason all of us who raised a hand and promised to defend the United States no matter what, even if it means our lives, took that vow was because we could count on the fact that our families back home would be taken care of if we were killed and no longer around to do it ourselves.
If this promise is no longer solid, then you will quickly see the number of brave young Americans who step up diminish very quickly–and rightly so. Everyone who has not served thinks, because of movies, that the reason we promise to leave no one behind is because of some John Wayne kind of macho courage. Wrong. The reason we promise to never leave anyone behind is because of that promise to the families left behind. We promise to get your loved one home. Dead or alive, we will all go home again. Everyone goes home. And we will never stop trying until they all come home.
The other unbreakable promise to families and service members is that our combat dead will be treated with the highest respect and honor when they come home in a flag-draped box. And that those who have given up their most treasured possession–their son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother, uncle or aunt–will be able to welcome them by being there as they arrive in a military transport from the field of battle back into their gentle arms again.
This simple but profound ceremony gives the chance for the immediate family to see, in person, the honor and respect that is shown to their loved one by their comrades in arms, and experience the full extent of the gratitude of a grateful nation. Because of their sacrifice, it is a moment that most Americans will never see, never feel the emotional impact, and never feel the pain of the loss. This is a moment that can never, ever be reclaimed in life–and to have it denied to these families because of political infighting makes all 25 million veterans in the United States beyond furious. To use these people as a political football at a time when the pain that these families are enduring–at their most vulnerable time in their lives–is unforgivable. And trust me, it will not be forgotten. We veterans have long memories, particularly when we feel we have been wronged.
Every year at my American Legion post, we spend 24 hours in a Vietnam-era tiger cage prison to remind people of our brothers and sisters in arms, still POWs (Prisoners of War) or MIA (Missing in Action). No matter how many years pass, we will never forget them and their families, and we will never, ever stop trying to bring them back home.
The very idea that we might not be able to depend on our country to take care of families after we have made the ultimate sacrifice would never had occurred to any of us. It is unbelievable that it actually came to pass. This country exists because when foes tried to destroy it, our bravest young people picked up a weapon and said to all, This We’ll Defend. The denial of death benefits is more than just a disgrace, it is an insult to all who have served, all who are still serving and dying, and all the families who have sacrificed so that the rest of the country can have peace and safety. And mostly, it is a slap in the face to all of our lost POW/MIA brothers and sisters who remain on patrol to this day.