Spend this Memorial Day honoring living veterans

By Pat LaMarche

Memorial Day – what does it mean to you? Barbecues and family get-togethers and the seasonally granted freedom to wear white shoes?

It’s also a time when many folks head over to the cemetery or the town park or the VFW hall and remember those who’ve died.

Some celebrations combine all three — although I can vouch for the fact that planting flowers at your mom’s grave can be tough on those white slacks.

I’ve got an idea: Let’s change the holiday a bit. How about this year we change the name of our spring holiday from Memorial Day to Honorarium Day? That way we could revere folks while they’re still alive.

I actually got the idea when I overheard a couple of older guys talking. Both former military, they discussed a young soldier one of them had seen at a veterans center earlier that week. One of the fellas said, “Oh, yeah, this country loves it soldiers. They love us when we’re fighting and love us when we’re dead. It’s the time in between that they don’t much care about us.”

He’s right. We do put yellow ribbons on the backs of the cars for the troops. If the yellow ribbons show support for soldiers, maybe we need different colored ribbons to show support for veterans when they get home.

So here are a few color suggestions.

And if you’re some enterprising entrepreneur, feel free to start selling them. I make only one request, if you take my ideas and run with them: Please have the decency to give a percentage to the veterans themselves. See, with extremely rare exception, the money that folks spend on those yellow car magnets doesn’t help the troops at all.

Prototype No. 1: the bricks-and-mortar ribbon. You can slap one of those on your car to show support for homeless veterans. You may remember a few months ago I mentioned the 400,000 homeless veterans in our country. Well, guess what, they’re still homeless! You aren’t surprised, are you? Why? Did you write to your congressperson and tell them to do something about fixing the problem? No? Did you think somebody else would do it?

I’ve got an idea. Go get that yellow ribbon off your car right now. I mean even before you finish reading this column. You can put it back on after you do something about the 200,000 who slept in the street just last night — and not a moment sooner.

Then there’s the ball-and-chain ribbon, for incarcerated veterans. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the same folks who gave us the statistic on veterans living in the streets, tell us that veterans are more likely than any other inmates to serve time for violent crimes. Maybe if we buy enough ball-and-chain ribbons we can find therapeutic solutions for our soldiers — after our military has honed their violent tendencies — so that they can reassimilate into society when our government’s done using them.

Prototype three: the pink-slip ribbon. This little bright spot on the back of your bumper will honor the returning veterans who can’t find a job. According to Military.com, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics found the 2005 jobless rate for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to be three times the national average; a whopping 15 percent for our heroes between the ages of 20 and 24.

And lastly there’s the gold-watch ribbon. Heck this one’s so nice you could get two and put one on your fridge so that you can think of a wounded veteran whenever you grab a snack. Otherwise these ribbons on your car just remind the folks driving behind you of their obligation to care for our valiant men and women.

The gold-watch ribbon highlights all the active-duty service personnel whom the U.S. government retires to keep from getting full benefits. A 2007 news expose by KABC in Los Angeles explained, “Veterans, facing medical troubles, are trying to deal with their injuries, and find that they can’t get the care they want, because they’ve been forced out of active duty.”

If you’ve lost someone you love, then every day is Memorial Day.

This year let’s honor those still with us.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the spokesperson for the Evergreen Mountain Resort & Casino referendum campaign and the author of “Left Out in America.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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