Former surgeon general gives Veterans Day address
A former U. S. surgeon general told those attending a Veteran’s Day commemoration at VFW Post 7234 in Ocean View that when he cared for veterans, he was caring for “the most deserving patients in the world.”
“Whether two or 20 years, whether here in the U.S. or overseas, whether in combat or not, you’ve served, and you’re all part of that line, that bulwark that is between us and those who would do us harm,” Lt. Gen. Ronald R. Blanck said at the Sunday, Nov. 11, ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the armistice that marked the end of World War I. “What a significant thing you have done,” Blanck said.
Now retired after 32 years in the U.S. Army, Blanck said, “I loved every minute of it, except for one or two times — maybe three or four — in Vietnam that weren’t very pleasant. But the other one that wasn’t very pleasant was being grilled by certain Congressional committees when I was surgeon general. I think I’d rather go under hostile fire,” Blanck said, eliciting laughter from those attending the ceremony.
“I’m very proud to be a veteran,” Blanck said. “I stayed in the army for many reasons. One of the biggest ones was that I could take care of patients without any regard for their ability to pay, because we provide that in the military. I had the most deserving patients in the world — the men and women of the military, their families, and retirees and their families.”
Blanck told those assembled at the VFW that the numbers of veterans have dwindled since World War II, when about 11 percent of the population served in the military, compared with 7 percent today.
“In 20 years, it will be 5 percent. Veterans are a declining lot,” he said.
He added, however, that the number of veterans serving in Congress has actually increased in recent election cycles.
“I really wish they would bring back something like the draft,” Blanck said, explaining that he envisions a system that embodies “the concept of national service, where everyone would have to serve — not necessarily in the military, but doing something in support of this nation and learning about service — something we all know,” he said, to more applause from the audience.
“I see no political will for that, but, boy, I wish there would be some,” Blanck said.
As a physician, Blanck said he knows firsthand the price that veterans pay for their service, “from conventional wounds, and from the invisible wounds of war,” such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. He lamented the high percentage of veterans who die by suicide after returning from war.
“Too many come back different,” he said. “Not damaged, but different. They have difficulty reintegrating into a society which often does not understand them and what they have gone through,” Blanck said. That is especially true for reservists, he said, and for those who have “separated” from military life and come back to a civilian community, rather than having the support that one would get on a military base.
“After I came back from Vietnam, I trained at Walter Reed, and I saw wounded then,” he said. “I saw wounded when I commanded Walter Reed, and I still go to the new Walter Reed now and I see wounded there — and I’ll tell you what, I’m always inspired by their attitude, by the upbeat way they look at things.”
Blanck said he is also heartened by advances in medical treatment of veterans.
“One of the most exciting things” he said, is new technology being used to regenerate limbs and organs.
“We’ve grown bladders and have implanted them. We’ve grown tips of fingers in a [petri dish] and have implanted them. We have done transplants of whole limbs, which we used to not be able to do because of rejection,” Blanck said.
In contrast with those advances, Blanck said, he is disappointed “to hear about veterans not getting jobs due to the suspicions that they may be damaged goods” or of “neighbors objecting to homes being built for families of veterans to stay in until they can get their housing. That happened in Delaware,” he said, adding that such attitudes in communities are “not acceptable.”
Blanck recognized board members attending the ceremony from the Bethany Beach-based Operation SEAs the Day program, which serves wounded service members and their families. He urged the community to continue to support veterans.
“Honoring veterans is much more than walking up to a veteran and saying, ‘Thank you for your service,’” he said. “It’s more than applauding when members of the service walk through airports. It’s community programs. It’s jobs. It’s housing. It’s counseling. At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s appreciating and understanding.”
“Most of us — all of us — are fine, thank you very much,” Blanck said of his fellow veterans, but he added that it is “actions, not just words, that demonstrate support and add to the public knowledge of who veterans are and what veterans do.”
By Kerin Magill