- - Monday, May 26, 2014

On Wednesday, The Washington Times played host at the Capitol Hill Club to the military veterans who are now serving in the United States Congress. In the formal program, conducted by David Keene, The Washington Times Opinion Editor, a number of awards were made in recognition of achievements on behalf of America’s Armed Forces.

A special award was made to Rep. Ralph M. Hall, Texas Republican, who is one of only two veterans of World War II still serving in the Congress. The presentation was preceded by remarks from fellow Texans, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and decorated veteran, Tony Arterburn, founder of the political action committee, Veterans for Congress. Mr. Arterburn reminded the audience of Mr. Hall’s enlistment at the age of 17 in the U.S. Navy, three days after Pearl Harbor. He proceeded to a distinguished career as a Navy pilot. Mr. Hall then gave a brief acceptance speech which eloquently described his efforts on behalf of Texas veterans. He concluded with some humorous stories which brought down the house.

The program began with Mr. Keene welcoming the guests and giving an overview of The Times’ support and concern for military personnel both past and present. He pointed to the most recent example of The Times being the first to report on the current Veterans Administration scandal. He then recognized the paper’s delegation in the audience, led by Chairman of the Board Tom McDevitt and Editor John Solomon.

Next was a heartfelt thanks to the evening’s several veterans’ organization sponsors, including The Coalition To Salute America’s Heroes, plus Arizona State University, event organizer, Kirsten Fedewa and Associates, and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United Sates, whose contributions were being thoroughly appreciated at the free bar. A contribution from this event will be made to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

Anthony Kearns then sang a powerful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner followed by a presentation of the flag by the Anacostia Marine Color Guard. The Pledge of Allegiance led by Sergeant Mary Herrera, U.S. Army National Guard (ret) was next.

The program was a mixture of brief remarks and entertainment by popular tenor, Anthony Kearns. Musical interludes throughout the program featured Kearns singing a number of songs, including “Ave Maria” dedicated to all who have served our country in uniform. Kearns also sang “South of the Border” in honor of Congressman Hall and his fellow Texans – sounding nothing like Gene Autry! Kearns concluded with a touching “O Danny Boy”, which is commonly interpreted as a father (or mother) saying farewell to a son going off to war.

Mr. Keene introduced Sergeant Herrera, representing the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. She singled out the Coalition’s support for female combat veterans. These women faced combat for the first time and some suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress and other conditions which lead too many into homelessness. The Coalition participated in a significant way to construction of a transitional facility for female combat veterans here in Washington D.C. But that was not the end of Mary’s speech.

Sergeant Mary Herrera herself was wounded in combat during her tour in Iraq. This small, fragile-looking woman told the story of why she was awarded the Purple Heart. She was the automatic weapon gunner on the lead vehicle in a convoy on its way from Fallujah, Iraq to Ramadi when they were attacked. Herrera was shot twice in her arm during the ambush but nevertheless managed to fire ten rounds to cover her fellow soldiers until the ambush was over. Those wounds were so severe that she now has no feeling in her right arm. This story was delivered in a low key, matter of fact voice, and created an enormous impact on those present. She may be small in stature but she possesses gigantic courage.

After a musical interlude and the Hall presentation, Congressman Mike Coffman was presented a certificate in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the cause of helping combat veterans from the Iraq War, and his service on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. Congressman Coffman then made a few remarks.

The program ended promptly with Anthony Kearns‘ last set.

But the program is not the whole story of this evening. Among the attendees were Congressional veterans from both sides of the aisle. The Democrats were led by Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-New York), himself a recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his U.S. Army service in the Korean War and Dean of the New York congressional delegation. The Republican side was represented by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Ted Cruz (R- Texas), and House members Ralph Hall (R-Texas), Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), and Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota), among others.

It is not often that the veterans in Congress are singled out for recognition. In these days of extreme partisanship, it is helpful to remember that patriotism is not the sole possession of either party. The greatest sign of patriotism is military service, a distinction shared by 90 members of the House of Representatives and 38 Senators.

Finally, the value of engaging internationally acclaimed talent not only adds an appeal to a different demographic than the usual mix of the Capitol Hill audiences, but also provides a shared experience to all in the audience. Both of these effects have been seen in the many other concerts for military and veteran causes which have featured Anthony Kearns.

In all, a delightful – and interesting —evening.

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