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Roberts: This Memorial Day, Honor Our Iraq Veterans

MSNBC recently devoted a week to shining a light on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning to the workforce, helping to improve their increasingly dim job prospects. The network should be applauded for rallying around our war-worn military veterans.

Sadly, others in the country are not doing enough to honor these young men and women who have sacrificed family relationships, jobs and economic stability to fight for their country.

In fact, the usual ticker-tape parade that has been an important symbol of the welcoming home of troops from war will not take place.

We believe these troops should be honored with a large-scale parade for the service and sacrifice of those returning veterans who served in Iraq. Memorial Day has a unique purpose. It’s crucial that we honor the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice serving in Iraq, not just our veterans. There has been a decision not to have the New York-style parade as in past wars. This debate owes itself partially to an earlier controversial war: Vietnam.

Critics claim that the United States lost that war and that the American military and political leadership was never able to adopt strategies, tactics or a goal that earned the support of the American people. Criticism of the Vietnam veterans was worse; in the 1960s, many of the most virulent anti-Vietnam protesters felt that Vietnam veterans were murderous psychopaths who deserved prosecution rather than celebration.

As a Vietnam veteran myself, I saw first-hand the way my comrades were treated and my reaction was, “never again.”

The veterans of the Iraq War deserve an expression of gratitude from the American people. And the American people deserve an opportunity to publicly thank those who served and sacrificed in Iraq. And they will get one. As it happens, the vehicle for this welcome home salute is already in place: the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C.

Many have argued that, with troops still deployed in Afghanistan and the uncertain situation in Iraq, a ticker-tape parade for our Iraq veterans would be inappropriate, and this may very well be the case.

The National Memorial Day Parade, however, is a different kind of parade. It is a massive moving timeline of American military history, designed to honor the sacrifice of American servicemen and servicewomen from the American Revolution through today. This year’s parade will include a special tribute to the Iraq War generation, providing veterans their chance to be honored on Constitution Avenue in our nation’s capital.

The parade will provide a dignified, yet fitting, forum for Americans to gather and thank those who fought in Iraq and honor those who did not come home. More than a quarter of a million spectators are expected to attend this year’s event, with many more tuning in to watch on television nationwide.

This salute should be a highly anticipated event that will make all Americans proud, while avoiding the jingoistic victory lap that no one wants nor thinks is appropriate. But one fact remains clear: This generation of service members, which many have called America’s “new greatest generation,” deserves a special place of honor.

Our troops in Iraq performed at the highest level of professionalism, involving the most challenging circumstances. Their valor was extraordinary, as seen in the number of medals bestowed on them. Their legacy was established by the fact that U.S. forces lost no significant battles.

At many times outnumbered or surrounded by an often hostile population in hell holes such as Fallujah, Marines and soldiers fought hand-to-hand with jihadists and al-Qaida terrorists, and they prevailed. In addition to their major role as combatants, made even more dangerous and difficult by very restrictive rules of engagement, our troops served as de facto mayors, bankers, construction supervisors, principals of schools and many other capacities for which they had no training — and they excelled here, too.

Unlike the indifference and hostility shown by many members of the ’60s generation, polls show that a majority of today’s young people admire their contemporaries in uniform or those who have served. They will have an opportunity to join hundreds of thousands of their fellow Americans in saying thanks to our returning Iraq veterans on Constitution Avenue on May 28. We hope that you will join us in honoring their sacrifice and the sacrifice of the thousands who have been killed and wounded while in service to our country.

James C. Roberts is president of the American Veterans Center, the organizer of the National Memorial Day Parade.

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