The courage and loyalty of minority veterans during World War II was invoked by Roy Ebihara, who called for solidarity Friday during a Veterans Day ceremony after a presidential election that bitterly divided the nation.
Ebihara, an Army veteran, served from 1954-1956. As a child, the now 83-year-old Ebihara was one of some 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent imprisoned in internment camps.
However, Ebihara, noted Japanese-Americans were some of the most decorated World War II veterans. He also spoke about how black Americans and American Indians served bravely despite a history of discrimination against them.
Ebihara, of Oberlin, said some of the children and grandchildren of those soldiers also served bravely as did ethnic minorities such as Muslim-Americans. He cited Army Capt. Humayan Khan, killed in the Iraq War in 2004.
Khizr Khan, Humayan Khan’s father and a Pakistani immigrant, criticized President-elect Donald Trump during the Democratic convention for vowing to ban Muslims from immigrating to the U.S.
Ebhiara was also critical of Trump.
“Today we must all understand that we are dependent on each other and that the future will be based on the ability of our diverse races, religions, and cultures to rise above inevitable conflicts,” Ebhira, told about 75 people in a ceremony at the Hotel at Oberlin. “I hope president-to-be Mr. Trump remembers that. So, as you walk along the the streets of Oberlin, do not forget that the next man or woman or child you meet, whose color is different from yours, may be a child or grandchild of a soldier who fought for the freedom that you now enjoy.”
Besides ethnic and racial divides, speakers noted there is a divide between the soldiers and civilians. There are approximately 1.3 million active military members, according to the Department of Defense, and they make up just 0.4 percent of the roughly 320 million population of our country.
Mick Munoz, who served in the Marine Corps from 1988-1992, including during the first Gulf War, recalled his difficulties readjusting to civilian life. Munoz, sober since 2008, said he battled alcoholism and was often angry.
The Marines taught him about how to use explosives and weapons to kill, and how to lead. “It never taught me how to deal with anger management, how to be successful in relationships, how not to be an alcoholic, and how to ask for help when I needed it,” said Munoz, now a veterans program administrator at Cuyahoga Community College.
Munoz said veterans shouldn’t be afraid to seek treatment and he decried the high suicide rate among veterans. There were roughly 19.4 million veterans in 2014, according to the National Center of Veterans Analysis and Statistics.
A 2012 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study estimated about 22 veterans commit suicide daily. Most are older vets who didn’t serve in the Afghanistan or Iraq wars. The study found the average age of male veterans who committed suicide between 1999 and 2010 was 59 and 69 percent of all veteran suicides involved veterans over 50.
Herman Williams, a U.S. Marine and Vietnam War veteran, said he was wounded three times and came home with post-traumatic stress disorder. Now a peer support facilitator with the VA in Cleveland, he told the audience he’s grateful for the respect shown veterans at the ceremony and would mention it to those he works with who have PTSD.
Williams said after the ceremony that he worries that the VA — criticized by Trump for failing to provide care in a timely fashion — may be privatized. Trump’s 10-point campaign plan regarding veterans doesn’t call for privatization but would allow veterans to get care at a “private service provider of their choice.”
The plan also calls for making it easier to discipline and fire incompetent VA employees. However, Williams said the VA is getting a bum rap.
More than half of the 1.56 million veterans who’ve returned from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars sought care through the VA, according to a 2013 study by Harvard economist Linda Bilmes, who analyzed Department of Defense statistics. Half of Afghanistan and Iraq vets have applied for permanent disability benefits, according to the study. One-third have mental illness including anxiety, depression and PTSD, and 253,000 have traumatic brain injuries.
“There’s some horror stories, but there a lot of good,” Williams said of VA care. “The VA is working harder to do better.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune A Veterans Day ceremony was held Friday at the Hotel at Oberlin. It included speeches and an appearance by the Lorain High School ROTC and music from the Oberlin High School orchestra.