CARVER: Debt to veterans is great, must be paid

To observe the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, former sentinels are joined by the Ceremonial Unit of the U.S. Capitol Police for a flag folding observance, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. The special flag was flown over several American military cemeteries at World War 1 battle sites in France. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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 ably provided 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.  

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. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush called our nation to the noble cause of freedom, saying, “Ours is the cause of freedom. We’ve defeated freedom’s enemies in the past and we will defeat it again … 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 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’ support of the noble cause of freedom has come at a great cost. They’ve paid for our freedoms in full with their blood, sweat, and tears.  

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. 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! 

Chaplain (Major General) Douglas Lanier Carver served as the 22nd Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army (2007-2011). He later served as interim pastor of First Baptist Church in Matthews, NC and currently is Director of Chaplaincy with the North American Mission Board, where he oversees 2,700 chaplains around the world.