At Arlington and Beyond, BVA Honors All Veterans
Blinded veterans and their families throughout the country remembered their comrades from all branches and eras of service during regional group activities, ceremonies, parades, receptions, and meal gatherings at homes, businesses, schools, and restaurants, many of which offered complimentary food and beverage.
The events on November 11, 2016 and those preceding them throughout the week reached a crescendo for Dale Stamper and his wife, Cora, when they participated in a moment of silence at the arrival of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month commemorating the signing of the Armistice ending the First World War. They then witnessed in person the Presidential wreath placement at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns.
Dale and Cora also attended a White House breakfast hosted by President Barack Obama, the final one held for invited veterans during his eight years in office.
BVA National Vice President Joe Parker and several members of the BVA National Headquarters staff, including newly appointed National Field Service Officer Richard Lane, also attended the traditional ceremony in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater following the wreath laying.
Dale was seated center stage with other VSO National Commanders and National Presidents. Each was introduced and asked to stand to be recognized with the name of the organization represented. Now an established tradition for BVA, Ed Eckroth and Joaquin Espinosa marched with the U.S. and BVA flags down an amphitheater ramp and then up again during the awe-inspiring Processions of Colors to open and close the event.
Prayers for veterans were offered by Chaplain Michael McCoy, Director of VA Chaplain Service.
Robert Swan, National Commander of the Polish Legion of American Veterans, USA (PLAV) spoke first. PLAV served as this year’s host organization representing the Veterans Day National Committee. Other speakers were VA Secretary Robert McDonald and President Obama. The music was provided by The United States Navy Band.
Introducing President Obama, Secretary McDonald outlined some of the recent increases in health care coverage and benefits to veterans during his administration.
“Today—even though there are 2 million fewer veterans than in 2009—there are nearly 1.2 million more veterans receiving some type of VA care and services, 1.2 million more veterans are enrolled for VA healthcare, 1.3 million more receive disability compensation, a half-million more veterans have VA home loans, and we’ve seen a 76 percent increase in veterans receiving educational benefits,” he said. “We’ve cut veteran homelessness in half since 2010, veteran unemployment’s dropped by over half in the last five years, and unemployment for Post-9/11 veterans has dropped by 70 percent.”
President Obama used his final Veterans Day speech as a call for unity and to urge Americans to set aside political grievances in order to follow the example of those who fight the nation’s wars.
“Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness and selflessness is possible, stop and look to a veteran,” said President Obama. “They don’t always go around telling stories of their heroism, so it’s up to us to ask and to listen, to tell those stories for them, and to live in our own lives the values for which they were prepared to give theirs.”
He went further by declaring it impossible to serve veterans by doing what they have done for the rest of the country, but that the nation’s citizenry can at least try to pay back some of the sacrifice.
“On Veterans Day, we acknowledge, humbly, that we can never serve our veterans in quite the same way that they served us. But we can try. We can practice kindness. We can pay it forward. We can volunteer. We can serve. We can respect one another. We can always get each other’s backs.”
The President pledged to continue the never-ending quest to fulfill America’s sacred trust with the nation’s veterans.
“Together, we began this work,” he concluded. “Together, we must continue to keep that sacred trust with our veterans and honor their good work with our own, knowing that our mission is never done.”
Following the ceremony, and accompanied by a Veterans of Foreign War escort, Dale, Joaquin, Richard, and Joe presented the BVA wreath at the aforementioned Tomb immediately behind the amphitheater. The BVA contingency later participated in a PLAV-hosted reception at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial just outside the main gates of the cemetery.
On November 12, the Columbus Chapter of the Georgia Regional Group participated in the 8th Annual Veterans Day Parade with the generous assistance of the Columbus Antique Military Organization. The group was identified by a banner hanging on the side of their truck. The banner included their regional group name and the BVA emblem. The parade is a tri-city event that kicks off in Phenix City and ends on Broad Street in Columbus. Individual BVA members participating were BVA National Treasurer Joe McNeil, Clifford Jones, Elizabeth Holmes, Cedrick Jackson, Reverend Willey Jackson, Johnathan Barron, Otis Smith, and William Miles and his guide dog, Joshua.