Sunday, August 26, 2007

Betty Sutton, Dick Goddard, and my fellow veterans

I enjoyed quite the experience yesterday as emcee of the groundbreaking for the Ohio Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park in Clinton. There ceremony went a bit long, but the strong showing of veterans and their families is a strong indication of how overdue this project really is.

I was positioned on the stage between Dick Goddard and Congresswoman Betty Sutton. What a neat place to be -- sitting between two folks whom others look to to make their futures brighter.

Goddard is truly a charismatic gentleman. Clearly the dean of local broadcasters, he's so personable you'd think you were old friends by the time the conversation ends. He looks good in his Air Force uniform from his tour of duty during the Korean conflict. He likes to tell the audience of how the military sent him to Greenland of all places ... "but I must have done a good job," Goddard told the audience, "because not one North Korean made it to Greenland during my tour."

On stage, we shared quiet jokes about how long the service was going and whether the dark clouds would shower us. Goddard told me, "we'll be just fine because it only rains on sinners." I stole his line when I went to the microphone and got a big laugh.

To my left sat freshman Congresswoman Betty Sutton. What strikes me about Sutton is her genuine reverence for the position she now holds. I get the impression that she truly recognizes the responsibility she has to represent the area on the nation's biggest stage while trying to stay "connected" to the people who put her there.

Sutton told me that her niece is a member of the Ohio National Guard and will likely deploy soon. (I can't help but feel that those elected representatives with a personal connection to the war will make better decisions about how to proceed.) Sutton told me that she hadn't been able to visit Iraq yet but hopes to make a trip if it can be arranged. I also appreciated her candor when she told the veterans that while a new health care bill passed by the House does provide additional funds to veterans, it still isn't enough. Honesty goes a long way with military folks.

I also noticed how composed Sutton and fellow Congressman Ralph Regula stayed when a few fireballs got lobbed from the stage. Goddard told the crowd that we should "spay and neuter the current administration that got us into Iraq." Later, a former Marine who leads a veterans group told the crowd that our elected leaders in Washington haven't made good on their promises and that many can't be trusted.

Still, my best experience was getting to share moments with veterans of another era and from different wars but who seem to truly empathize with today's Iraq veterans. To me, I felt like I was meeting men as old as my father and grandfather but who feel more like my brothers.

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