The following is an edited version of the speech delivered by Chaplain (Major General) Doug Carver, US Army, Retired at the Care4Carolina prayer breakfast to support Medicaid expansion on June 22:
During his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln said the Nation had a solemn responsibility to “…bind up the wounds, to care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow and orphan.” The Federal Government has done a great job in providing our veterans health care, disability compensation, rehabilitative services, and transition assistance. However, the needs of our veterans remain great.
One in four veterans are homeless. Mental health issues among our veterans are on the rise. Thirty-eight percent of them suffer post-traumatic stress or mild traumatic brain injury. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. And, sadly, many of our veterans and their families remain uninsured in their health coverage.
We’ve gathered today to pray for our veterans and their families, and to ask ourselves, “What can we do better for them?” Before we answer that question, let’s answer the question of why we owe our veterans our continued support.
Our veterans defend the Nation 365 days a year. Their heroism has been demonstrated time and again from the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism. In the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 13, Jesus Christ told His disciples that He was on a sacred and noble mission. His goal, priority, and purpose was to restore humanity’s relationship to God that had been destroyed by sin. Christ’s noble cause was to secure our liberty and freedom from the bondage to our sinful nature.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush called our nation to the noble cause of freedom. He said, “Ours is the cause of freedom. We’ve defeated freedom’s enemies in the past and we will defeat it again. We cannot know every turn this battle will take, yet we know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured. We will no doubt face new challenges, but we have our marching orders. My fellow Americans, let’s roll.
Millions of young men and women heard that message and responded by volunteering their service to a nation at war. Today let us remember our veterans, primarily young men and women who have set aside their hopeful dreams and personal ambitions to answer the Nation’s call to duty. They left the comforts of home to deploy to some foreign land, willing to sacrifice life and limb, health and wellbeing, volunteering to stand in harm’s way and defend our freedom. Our veterans who deploy into combat quickly lose their innocence and a bit of the humanity as they personally witness the chaos, terror, and carnage of war that we can continue to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Our veterans’ support to the noble cause of freedom has come at a great cost. Our many national liberties have been underwritten by the selfless and sacrificial service of our veterans. They’ve paid for our freedoms in full with their blood, sweat, and tears. Many of them have given their full measure of duty by laying down their lives for the precious liberties that we hold dear.
Finally, we must never forget the personal commitment of our veterans to Freedom’s cause. Jesus Christ said that there’s no greater love than laying down your life for your friends. Shortly after He said these words, He showed His disciples and world that He was even willing to die on the Cross at Calvary for the sins of the world.
Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, 33, was a platoon sergeant with Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. On April 4, 2003, Smith was setting up a temporary enemy prisoner of war holding area during the seizure of Saddam International Airport when his unit came under attack. Sergeant Smith kept his soldiers focused during the fight while engaging the Iraqi force of around 100 men with his M16, a hand grenade and an AT4 anti-armor weapon. At one point in the battle, Smith manned a .50 caliber machine gun in the exposed turret of a damaged M113 armored personnel carrier and began firing at the main force of the enemy. He fired about 400 rounds, giving his soldiers time to regroup and mount an attack of their own.
When the shooting stopped, the Iraqi force had been defeated, but not before Sergeant First Class Smith suffered an enemy bullet to the head. Posthumously, he became the first recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Global War on Terror. In his last letter home to his wife, Sergeant Smith wrote, “I’m prepared to give everything to make sure all my boys make it back home safely.” There is no greater love than this.
Today we salute our veterans for the noble cause, the great cost, and the personal commitment they have given to keep our nation the home of the free and brave. How can we express our gratitude to our veterans and their families? We can give of ourselves in service to others in our communities, the nation, and the world. Our personal service is needed in our schools, our local government and civic organizations, and our religious houses of worship. We can all make a difference by simply showing dignity, respect, and love to others. We must make a conscious decision to practice the art of civility at a time in which there is such a shortage of it. What better way can we preserve and pass on our cherished national values, perhaps best summarized by a key phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, “…one nation under God”?
God bless our veterans and their families. And God bless America!