By Mike Jaquays| Mid-York Weekly
All veterans have stories to tell, says retired United States Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, and everyone should reach out to the vets to learn those stories.
Basla was the keynote speaker Nov. 11 during the Madison County War Veterans Memorial Committees Veterans Day ceremony at the county office building in Wampsville. The Syracuse native and recent co-founder of the family-run Madison County Distillery in Cazenovia told of some of the stories he had heard during his own military service.
The first storytelling vet was confined to a hospital bed with a left leg of raw fresh and a right leg missing above the knee. Basla asked that veterans future plans and was told he planned to get out of this bed and get back in the fight. When asked what he would do if he wasnt able to continue his service because of his injury, that veteran said then he would get up out of that bed and go up and down the halls of the hospital to inspire his fellow vets.
The second veteran had lost both legs and was 100s of miles away from his family as he recovered in a hospital. That vet told Basla he planned to sell his house in Seattle and move his family to San Antonio so they would be closer to him and he could take care of them.
I could only hope I would be as strong in a similar situation, Basla said.
The third was undergoing treatment for injuries and said he planned to marry his fiance as soon as possible. He had even told the doctors to amputate his foot because that would be the way towards better and faster healing.
The fourth was a member of a detachment working at a port mortuary, preparing the bodies of fallen heroes for their return to their loved ones in their own hometowns. Basla was told how those bodies were received at the mortuary packed in ice and had to be inspected for unexploded ordinance as well as identified often by dental records or tattoos.
Many members of the staff need counseling after their 180-day port mortuary deployment, Basla said he was told.
These stories and so many more like them speak to the fabric of our nation, Basla said. But he added he is not really sure the general public truly understands the sacrifices and commitment of veterans.
He said statistics show 25 percent of homeless adults are veterans. There are 22 vets committing suicide every day on average, a figure that is 1.5 times higher than non-veterans and 2.2 times higher for military woman compared to civilian women, he said.
These are heartbreaking statistics, Basla reflected.
But what can people do to help these veterans? Basla said the Veterans Administration has been improving their services and there are great outreaches like the Wounded Warriors program and Clear Path for Veterans right in nearby Chittenango in Madison County.
Veterans have many untold stories and many needs that have to be met. And the best way to find out about those vets is to ask them about their lives and their service, Basla said.
If you know a vet and do not know their story, ask them to share it, he encouraged. Those veterans have many talents that can be shared and many needs that can be met all to be revealed during those conversations, Basla added.
WAVEM president Don Smith explained the traditional Veterans Day ceremony was shortened this year because of the coronavirus safety concerns. That meant there were none of the usual Oneida school district elementary students reading their Veterans Day essays.
Likewise, WAVEMs annual Veteran of the Year program normally held right before Veterans Day was also canceled this year, Smith explained. The short but no less honoring ceremony in the county office building atrium rather than outside in front of the memorial because of the weather.
Held at the traditional time of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the ceremony also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the formation of the WAVEM Committee.
Smith read the names of the WAVEM Committee members who have passed away over the last three decades, including Robert West, Raymond Doty, Harry Myers, Alan Wagner, Louis Balducci, Donald Cary, Ed Cook, Larry Dixon, Welden Allen, Tim Claven, Ray Bennett, Jerry Richmond, Joe Carinci and Douglas Ginney.
WAVEM Committee chaplain Bob Conway offered the invocation and benediction, Victor Ramirez of Madison Bistro sang the National Anthem and Peter Finocchiaro played Taps. Ramirez also invited the audience across the street to his bistro for refreshments afterwards.
Basla said he felt very in touch with his fellow veterans of Madison County through his participation in the ceremony.
It was an honor to be here, he said. There are 5,000 veterans in Madison County and I love staying connected with all of them.
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