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Local Vets Reflect On Memorial Day, Shinseki, And VA Scandal

Following a week of controversy in the wake of revelations surrounding the scandal at VA hospitals nationwide, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki submitted his resignation to President Obama on Friday. But should he have resigned? Should he have had to resign? And will his departure make a difference?

Those questions are still being discussed, even now that Shinseki has stepped down – but those were also the questions at the heart of the conversation all week long.

On Tuesday, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Fred Black and Lee Heavlin to the studio to discuss the issues surrounding the VA – not just Shinseki’s role, but also the scandal itself. (Or both scandals, more accurately: what made the news initially was the allegation that VA officials had deliberately covered up long wait times at VA hospitals, but the fact that veterans were waiting so long for treatment is a separate scandal in itself.) Black and Heavlin are both veterans; Heavlin currently serves as post commander at the American Legion Chapel Hill, and he also took the opportunity to reflect on Memorial Day and the commemorative ceremonies that had just taken place in Chapel Hill.

While Black and Heavlin were both concerned about the scandal, both men also observed that veterans do receive good care at VA hospitals – a fact that’s often lost in the current controversy. Black in particular argued that Shinseki’s departure would not make much difference in itself; Black has worked with Shinseki in the past, and vouches for his character as a concerned and dedicated official.

Listen to their conversations below, from the Tuesday Afternoon News with Aaron Keck.

Lee Heavlin:

Fred Black:

Marathon Jam Aims To Raise Money For Military Families

CHAPEL HILL – Local musicians will play music for 12 straight hours at the tenth annual Marathon Jam this Saturday to help raise money for families of injured military personnel.

Here’s local musician and organizer John Santa.

“The reason I do this charity is because it keeps families together,” says Santa. “All the little kids know is that mom or dad is hurt or mom or dad is away in the hospital. This lets the kids and families stay close. That helps the healing—just having the love and family together. That’s what it’s all about: no politics allowed. It’s just about families and honoring the sacrifice that the families of these soldiers make.”

All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Fisher House at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville.

The Fisher House hosts families of injured soldiers for free who are admitted at VA hospitals. There are 58 Fisher Houses across the United States and Germany. In just over two decades, the charity has assisted more than 180,000 families.

In previous years, much of the proceeds came from friends, family and local organizations sponsoring the musicians for how long they played. But Santa says this year; the marathon jam will not just be limited to music.

“A cool thing we are doing this year is we are opening it up for some artists, says Santa. “We are going to have some people painting. We call the players that play for the whole 12 hours ‘Iron Pickers.’ We may have our first ‘Iron Painter’ this year. We are going to have two painters with easels up, one sketch artist, and I think two photographers coming in and taking pictures and stuff.”

Santa says a solider that just this week returned from duty in the Middle East will also join in the effort.

“There’s a group called the Baghdad Bad Boys and one of the Bad Guys just got in from Kuwait on Tuesday,” says Santa. “He lives in Sumter, South Carolina and is driving up so that he can come up and play with us after being away from his family and friends for a year. That’s how important this thing is to the soldiers and their families.”

The Baghdad Bad Boys also participated in the 2010 Marathon Jam.

For the fifth straight year, the marathon jam will take place at American Legion Post 6 on Legion Road from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. The event is free and open to the public, but donations are encouraged.

Why Do They Do It?

Memorial Day is over and it was well celebrated by many citizens in our community. Lots of work went into the activities and more than a few lent their time and energy to make all of the events a success. Why do they do it, some may wonder. There’s really a pretty simple answer; they do it because they care!

Who’s “they?” They are the members and the auxiliaries of The Veterans of Foreign Wars, C.V. Cummings Chapel Hill Post 9100 and American Legion Post 6 and community volunteers. Each year they work long hours to ensure that Memorial Day is properly celebrated and that those who died in battle are properly remembered.

Planning begins early to make the event a smooth and efficient operation. On the Saturday before Memorial Day, Boy Scouts, veterans and family members gathered early in the morning at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery to drape flags on more than 500 graves of local service men and women. When they completed the task, they conducted a short, public memorial service in the cemetery with the help of the Boy Scouts.

Later Saturday morning, The Veterans of Foreign Wars distributed poppies at University Mall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The tradition of handing out poppies goes back almost 100 years and the poppies are now the symbol for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in remembrance of those who have served and died. Made by hospitalized veterans, the VFW believes that handing out the flowers with a simple “please remember” message is very effective.

On Memorial Day, another brief memorial service at the cemetery started the day’s events. The American Legion Post held an open house from 10-11 a.m. and there were tables laden with scrapbooks, military equipment, and memorabilia, all watched over by a variety of uniforms and photos hanging on the walls. The formal program started at 11 a.m.

This year, the Orange County Sheriff’s Color Guard presented the colors. After an opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, Ms. Cathy Klein sang the National Anthem. As is their tradition, there was a reading of British Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem, “In Flanders Field.

The guest speaker for this year was Colonel Saul Strauss, U.S. Army (Retired). As a World War II veteran, Colonel Strauss shared his battlefield experiences treating the wounded, irrespective of their uniform; he just treated people, he said. Following his presentation Mr. Markos Simopoulos provided a rendition of “America the Beautiful. The program leaders then dedicated a wreath and conducted a very stirring “Two Bell Ceremony” in tribute to the departed.

After retiring the colors and the closing prayer, guest observed the wreath that was placed at the flagpole. In spite of the heat, people gathered wherever they could find some shade to hear a concert by The Village Band and visit the display tables organizations set up. To satisfy the hungry crowd, Boy Scout Troop 835 prepared hot dogs and served drinks provided by The Chapel Hill Magazine again this year.

Yes, it took a lot of planning to make all of the moving parts come together to properly honor our fallen heroes and heroines, and all of those who made it all come together should be proud, especially VFW Commander, Master Chief Petty Officer Lee Heavlin and Robert Patton, Adjutant, VFW Post 9100.

So why do they do it? They think it is important to do it. They know we must remember and teach the true meaning of Memorial Day. They served. They care.

What do you think?