Retired Army Maj. Gen. James E. Donald talks about the sacrifices military service men and women have made over the years during the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce’s 16th annual Veterans Appreciation Luncheon Nov. 1. (Staff Photos: Curt Yeomans)
COLLEGE PARK — The freedom to tweet, twerk and even talk comes at a high cost that — throughout U.S. history — has often been someone’s life, said retired Army Maj. Gen. James E. Donald.
Donald was the keynote speaker at the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce’s 16th annual Veterans Appreciation Luncheon Nov. 1 at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.
The annual event is regularly a prelude to Veterans Day, which is observed Nov. 11 — the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. But while Veterans Day has its roots in a war that was fought nearly 100 years ago, Clayton County business leaders remembered veterans of all wars regardless of how they are viewed historically.
And Donald urged them to remember the commitments and sacrifices service men and women have given to their country over the years.
“Throughout this nation’s history, America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen have bravely answered the call to defend our freedom, to aid our friends and allies, and to turn back aggressors,” said Donald. “We can never fully repay our debt of gratitude to the more than 650,000 American service members who died in battle and the 1.4 million who were wounded.
“Yet we can, however, recognize and thank the 25 million veterans still living today,” he added. “And indeed, it is fitting and proper that we all are here to celebrate their legacy and their sacrifice.”
This year’s luncheon focused on remembering the older generations of service men and women, as well as fallen veterans.
A bugler played “Taps for Fallen Heroes” during a solemn moment in the luncheon. A Tuskegee Airman and a Korean War veteran were also singled out for special recognition during the event. They each received standing ovations from the county’s business leaders for their service.
Retired Army Col. Fred Bryant, chairman of the chamber’s Military Affairs Council, reminded attendees that World War II veterans were “the greatest generation” for volunteering to stand up to Nazi aggression and the spread of fascism in Europe.
But Bryant also told attendees they should pay special attention to Korean War veterans because that war, and its veterans, are often overlooked because more historical attention is usually paid to World War II and the Vietnam War. He said that trend has only recently begun to change as the veterans from that war hit their 70s.
“It’s known as ‘The Forgotten War,’ but they’ve been getting more and more of the recognition they deserve recently,” said Bryant.
And Donald said the nation’s focus needs to be turned toward the plight of veterans after they leave military service. He echoed an old Army saying, “I will never leave a fallen comrade behind.”
More than 60,000 veterans are expected to return to Georgia over the next few years, he said. Donald said those veterans will need jobs when they come out of the military, but he added veterans have had a harder time finding employment than people who did not serve in the military.
The rates as of 2011 for young men ages 18-24 are 29.1 percent for military veterans and 17.6 percent for non-veterans, he said.
Donald also said 10,000 veterans are admitted monthly to Veterans Administration hospitals to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Cumulatively, 233,000 veterans were diagnosed with PTSD in 2011, and the number of PTSD injuries and traumatic brain injuries increases at a rate of 5 percent per quarter, he said.
As a result, the community must make sure there is a way for returning veterans to have a productive life to come back to when they leave war zones, said Donald.
“We are all called to action,” he said. “Our tactic in fighting out of these challenges that encircle us is to attack.”