Veterans and their families from all over the state come to Columbia to watch or take part in the annual Veteran’s Day parade. The 34th annual parade Monday featured every branch and era of the military, veteran’s groups, biker clubs, ROTC and bands.
Of course there was flag waving, shouts and even some laughter as vets on the sidewalk saw old buddies go by. One prominent banner and bus, however, prompted a wave of head-shaking.
The sign on the bus read “Homeless Veterans” — a reminder of a growing problem as more troops return home from two current wars to face a tough economy.
Add to that the veterans who are living longer and still needing government help for injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and in the case of Bob Hemingway of Conway, still discovering the side effects of Agent Orange. Hemingway has contracted a rare blood cancer dubbed “WM” because of his exposure to the toxic herbicide used by the U.S. in Vietnam. He says it is incurable and too rare to qualify for federal funding right now.
“Unfortunately there are just some injuries you have to deal with the rest of your life, ” he says.
For the newest generation of veterans he says, “I spend some time at the VA (in Columbia) and just from my friends that I have met over the years, we discuss that all the time that the help is just not here yet like it should be,” says Hemingway.
Lionel Johnson of Sumter, a decorated Army Ranger, says “We need to open more doors for the veterans, for the homeless veterans. We need to recognize that we do have problems when they come back from the war, because these young fellows that are coming back are very young and they went through a lot of stuff and they went back over two and three times. When they come back home we should open out arms to them.”
J.D. Mozee of Pomaria was a B-52 bomber crew chief beginning in 1965 adds, “There’s a lot of veterans who need taking care of, a lot of them don’t have homes. I guess they are doing the best they can, but they could do better.”