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Funeral honors for non-hero vets?

“Bear in mind that most veterans did nothing heroic. They served, and that’s laudable, but it hardly seems necessary to provide them all with military honors after they have died.”

This is the argument offered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bill McClellan in his recent column on why the federal government should no longer provide military funeral honors to veterans.

Give honors only to those who have died in combat, he writes. If others want honors, they should look to their veterans organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VWF) to provide them.

“Everybody knows government needs to cut costs,” he writes. “This is exactly how you do it. You identify things you don’t need, and you cut them.”

McClellan bases his knowledge of the lack of heroism in veterans off his own experience in Vietnam.

“I did nothing heroic. Nor did any of my close friends. But I knew people who did, and it devalues the real heroes to say that everybody was one,” he writes. “If everybody is a hero, nobody is.”

I can see how he arrived at this conclusion. He’s saying that in a drafted military, you are there because you have no other choice.

But he’s still way off target.

Vietnam or not — not everybody is a hero. But we know that everyone who served is. Plenty of drafted men didn’t even show up, placing those who did in a different category. And enduring scorn after homecoming, as our many Vietnam Vet commenters will happily tell you, is no joke either.

McClellan doesn’t think he’s a hero. But isn’t humility one of the marks of heroism?

And in today’s wars, again, certainly not everybody is a hero. Less than one percent of Americans volunteer to serve. That makes more than 99 percent of Americans (with the obvious exclusion of our firefighters and cops who are heroes in their own right) excluded from this category.

Ninety-nine percent of Americans are not heroes. One percent are heroes just by virtue of volunteering for the risk of war.

Not everybody is a hero. Just the one percent.

The other problem with McClellan’s argument is the question of how you define “hero.”

McClellan says that the real heroes are the ones who have given up actual life. And there’s no question about it — that is the highest sacrifice.

But we know from personal experience that plenty who have served have given all but their life. Some have given some or all their limbs. Some have given their ability to think, to remember, to function. Some have given their mental health. Our heroes have given their hearing, their skeletal integrity, their ability to walk without a limp, going a week without combat dreams and many more things the 99 percent takes for granted.

We know that the military’s citation and awards programs are imperfect at best. Plenty of acts of heroism go unrecognized or unreported. So even saying, “only give honors to those who have been recognized as earning it” would miss the mark.

Yes, we have to cut costs. And yes, the way you do it is by cutting things you don’t need.

Do veterans need full honors at their funeral? Probably not. But America needs military veterans. And there’s no price you can put on that.

This article first appeared in Featured, Spouse & Family News by Amy Bushatz.

Pagosa Springs has a dedicated group of veterans who answer the call to assist families who have lost veteran family members, with these final honors. Please contact this office, Roy Vega, or members of the American Legion Post 108 for additional information.

For further information on VA benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Pagosa Springs Community Center, on Hot Springs Blvd.

The office number is 264-4013, fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590, and e-mail is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4, p.m. Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to enroll, and for filing in the Archuleta County VSO office.

Meetings

The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

American Legion Post 108: second Wednesday of the month, 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

American Legion Post 108 Ladies Auxiliary: second Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

Veterans for Veterans: every Tuesday, 10 a.m., Quality Inn.

Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans: every other Monday, 6 p.m., St. Patrick’s Episcopal Parish Hall, 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. Contact Charlotte, 731-1025.

Point Man Ministry (veterans): every Thursday, 9 a.m., Crossroads Church, 1044 Park Ave.

Contacts

Durango VA Outpatient Clinic: 247-2214.

Farmington VA Center: (505) 327-9684.

The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support to veterans in crisis, as well as their family and friends 24/7, 365 days a year. Call (800) 273-8255, chat online, or text 838255.

This story was posted on April 11, 2013.