The Ties That Bind

If you’re a local Vietnam Veteran you may want to check out the Boca based chapter of the VVA.

Earlier this week, I had the honor of speaking to the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1125 at Patch Reef Park in Boca Raton.

It was a humbling experience for me since I have great respect for veterans. The opportunity came about when members of the organization attended a Bronze Star award ceremony that recognized the heroism of Skip Brown, a friend, retired Delray police officer and Vietnam veteran who was gracious enough to accept the Bronze Star at Old School Square’s Crest Theatre recently.

The local chapter of the VVA has about 90 members and does some great work in the community raising money for good causes and working to provide services and information to Vietnam veterans in our community.

Our conversation was a memorable one. We all have much to learn if we listen to those who have served. My takeaways: many of the veterans are concerned that basic civics aren’t being taught to young people. They worry about low voter turnout, a fundamental lack of knowledge about history and a lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. They are also keen on reaching Vietnam Veterans so they can engage with them and if needed steer them to services. The organization is working on a website which should be ready by Veterans Day.

I thought I’d share my remarks with readers of Your Delray Boca in an effort to raise awareness for the group.

 

“I’d like thank my longtime friend Arthur Brown for the opportunity to be with you this evening…

I have to admit I struggled with what to say tonight and that would make those who know me laugh…because I’m a lot of things but speechless is not one my afflictions.

I struggled because shortly after Arthur told me about your group and asked me to visit, I happened to stumble across the movie “Coming Home”  which depicts the experience of Vietnam veterans coming home and struggling to adjust to life back in the states.

And I realized that I don’t have much to tell you, but you have much to tell me and all of us.

I was born in 1964 and while I registered for selective service in 1982, I grew up in an America that relied on volunteers and not the draft. And so my peers and I never had to contemplate going to war—others fought for us. While I have respect and gratitude for those who volunteer and those who go to war, I don’t know what it’s like and I never will. If you told me everything you knew about that experience, I would appreciate and grow from that knowledge, but I would still not fully grasp what you lived.

So what do I have to share with you?

Thankfulness and gratitude…for sure.

And yet, as I thought about tonight, I began to think in a larger context and what I concluded is that maybe this inability or unwillingness to understand each other’s experience and perspective is at the heart of what is ailing America these days.

We are here together at a very strange moment in our nation’s history.

We are a nation divided.

We are estranged from one another. That is probably a feeling that you recognize since many Vietnam veterans have shared that they were not exactly welcomed when they returned home. (Editor’s note: during the Question and Answer session following the talk, one veteran said he had to travel in civilian clothes because he was treated harshly while in uniform).

These days, we are talking and often times yelling past each other…we don’t hear and we don’t listen. We don’t seek to understand and we are lacking in thankfulness. We are lacking in gratitude. We are failing to recognize each other as people, as Americans.

Yet, despite our troubles…despite our divisions…despite our broken politics, our opioid addictions, our homeless issues, poverty, despair and violence—we do remain a land of abundance.

Despite racism, hatred, anti-Semitism, homophobia, trade wars, tariffs and political swamps—we remain a place of beauty—we regularly enjoy the blessings of this nation…opportunity, love, compassion, freedom and justice. However, imperfect, it does exist.

And so I thought that just like I could never understand your experience in the Vietnam era, it is possible for me to appreciate and respect it. And therefore it’s possible for all of us to appreciate and respect each other—in spite of our differences.

That’s a decision that all of us have the power to make.

We need to decide what binds us as a nation. What do we share as Americans…not as Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives or other labels relating to race, religion, sexual preference or identity—but what binds us as people.

Maybe if we could see beyond the labels, maybe if we made an effort to listen, to be respectful and gracious… maybe just maybe we can find our way back to a place of reconciliation.

Abraham Lincoln called on us to summon our better angels. He also understood that a house divided cannot stand.

I see Lincoln as a model leader because he sought to unite not divide. Division is not leadership, its demagoguery. We lack leaders, we don’t lack demagogues.

That does not mean we cannot hold strong beliefs or advocate for deeply held convictions that conflict with each other. But it does mean, that we should strive for a better way to disagree. Because I know for sure that what we are doing today isn’t working. It’s not making America great again, it’s not instilling hope or affecting change, it is ripping us apart.

Maybe, we ought to step back…lay down our arms, shut off cable TV and social media for a few minutes and consider what’s at stake.  We just might think differently.

Maybe if we paused…we might change our perspective.

So what is at stake?

What is at risk?

I would argue that America itself is at risk.

For all of its imperfections, for all of its problems, this is an amazing country. A nation that has led the world, a beacon for all other nations.

How can we risk that?

How dare we risk that?

Your sacrifice…the sacrifice of others who fought for our country deserves better than what we are seeing these days.

The great leaders and American citizens and service members  who gave us liberty, freedom and the right to pursue happiness—deserve better than what our leaders and our pundits are giving us.

We, the people, deserve better.

I want to conclude with a few suggestions and then I’m anxious to hear your thoughts….

What do we do until we figure this out? What do we do to come together as a nation?

I would suggest we begin to think and act locally…volunteer, mentor a young person, find a worthy charity and give our time and talents…build a community. There are so many worthy causes to dive into in Delray and Boca.

Anne Frank said: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
How true and how amazing….that in the midst of the Holocaust Anne Frank was able to express hope. And her sentiments are spot on.

 

I’m anxious to hear your thoughts, but I just think we need to focus on what binds us, not what divides us. And that we need more uniters in leadership positions at all levels of our society.

The stakes are high…they couldn’t be higher and we are certainly at an inflection point. A house divided cannot stand…we need to heed the lessons of history if we are to have a future.

But we have the power to change things….to improve as Anne Frank said, our little slice of the world.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. FRAN A MARINCOLA says:

    good one

  2. Good stuff, Jeff.

  3. Patricia Sciarillo says:

    So agree. The anger and hatred must stop in this country. Whether you voted for president trump or not he has been attacked since day one. We as Americans are lucky enough to be able to vote people in and out of office. So in two years vote him out if you are so angry. What I would like to see in this country is term limits for Congress and senate. It should not be a life long career. We need new opinions..My husband volunteered for the army when they still had a draft. He served hinorably. He was stationed out in Fort Lewis, Wash. Most of the troops going to Vietnam left from there. He was discharged right before the build up in troops were sent. I thank God for that. We had 46 great years together before he passed away last year. So I thank all our service men and women out there today. We don’t have to agree politically with our neighbor but we have to learn to be civil to one another.

  4. Bern Ryan says:

    Excellent! Like the Bruce reference!

  5. Hats off to those like myself who have served. He is our dolly elected president. In order to avoid such a catastrophe in the future – those who stated at home get out and vote.

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