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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Beyond platitudes on Armed Services Day

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Today is a minor holiday with a major theme. We are asked to honor the service of all branches of the U.S. military.

Designated in 1949, Armed Services Day has never had the flash of the Fourth of July. It gives no vacation from work as does Memorial Day on May 26. It’s easy to confuse with Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

But judging from the number of bumper stickers and signs urging us to support the troops, today’s official recognition of the vital service of men and women in uniform is not superfluous.

In a restaurant the other day, we saw a woman leave her family’s table and walk over to where four men dressed in military fatigues were eating lunch. When they looked up at her, she said, “We just want to thank you for your service.” They nodded, and she smiled and went back to her table.

It’s common, especially in the South, to witness similar examples of heartfelt gratitude.

Also underlying some appeals for the troops are broader political goals, such as support for a strong national defense and the forceful promotion of freedom and democracy abroad.

Let’s remember that nothing about Armed Services Day suggests we should all agree on foreign policy. It in no way undermines our troops to point out, as does Doug Bandow of the libertarian Cato Institute, that “America accounts for almost half of the world’s military expenditures and provides defense guarantees to prosperous, populous allies throughout Asia and Europe.”

As of March 31, more than 50,000 of our troops were in Japan and more than 40,000 were in Germany. There are some U.S. troops on duty in more than 150 countries, including more than 30,000 still in Afghanistan.

Ours is an ambitious mission, about which there is general agreement that the United States does too little to support its individual soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. Focusing on the troops themselves, we find much to be done and many ways to do it.

It’s easy on the Internet to find out how to write letters of support or to send care packages and gifts. And there are efficient ways to do much more without losing the bulk of you contribution to the payroll of an army of high-pressure telemarketers.

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation, based in Tampa, is a highly rated charity that assists the special operations community, which includes Green Berets, Rangers and SEALs. Charity Navigator notes that 84.4 percent of every dollar donated goes to useful programs and services.

Charity Watch gives an A+ rating to Fisher House Foundation, which provides housing to families of either a hospitalized veteran or service member on active duty. A beautiful Fisher House near the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital was opened in 2007. Nationwide, the charity served 22,000 families last year.

Another reputable, service-oriented charity doing a lot of good is the Semper Fi Fund. It helped a Zephyrhills soldier injured in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2012 in several ways, including remodeling his mother’s home to make it accessible to him.

The fund, started in 2004, reports providing $89 million to more than 11,500 “heroes and their families.”

And let’s not forget how many of them are heroes making the world safer, even if in spots they seem overwhelmed.

History proves freedom won’t last long without the courage to fight for it.

Or as the great journalist Elmer Davis once put it, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

That is the service we honor today. Let’s remember we honor it best by doing more than waving the flag.

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