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Swartz: Why do we need Veterans Day?

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Nov. 11, 2002
Jim Swartz began his military service in 1967 as a Green Beret serving in Vietnam. He retired in 1992 after serving in the U.S. Army Air Defense Corps during the Gulf War.
Swartz was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 16 days before he and other men captured at the same time escaped and returned to active duty.
He is an active member of the Memorial Day and Veterans Day Committees of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 79. He works as a plane captain at Naval Air Station Meridian, overseeing aircraft during take-offs and landings.
As a guest of The Meridian Star's editorial board last week, he discussed Veterans Day and other veterans' issues.
The Meridian Star: Do you think Veterans Day means different things to different veterans?
Swartz: Veterans of World War I, World War II and Korea came home and got their hoopla. The Vietnam veterans never got a hoopla with all the political things going on, and then Desert Storm came and they got the big parades and things like that. A lot of us active duty Vietnam veterans kind of shunned away.
I volunteered. I spent three years over there. I feel no illness to the military or to my government about going over there. I understood why, even though sometimes I didn't understand why we were doing it the way we were doing it.
The Meridian Star: How should schools make students aware of sacrifices made by veterans?
Swartz: The educational system needs to go out and find these veterans and bring them into school the week of Veterans Day. Have them talk, tape them.
I think the movie "Saving Private Ryan" should be mandatory criteria for getting a high school diploma. They need to see what men did. If they want to understand the Vietnam War, one of the best movies put out has been "When We Were Soldiers" as far as accuracy and what was really going on over there.
The Meridian Star: How important is it for non-veterans to remember Veterans Day?
Swartz: I kind of object to people not supporting Veterans Days. They'll go out by the thousands to show up for cancer-funding things, diabetes and all this.
But they need to think of it. That's what these veterans are dying of every day. And a lot of cancer patients contracted it while they were in Vietnam. A lot of soldiers since the Korean War are dying of cancer because they were part of a nuclear test out in the middle of the desert.
What I'd like to see is instead of the veterans groups putting on their own parade, is the businesses of Meridian and Lauderdale County getting together and putting the parade on for the veterans, and the same thing with the Memorial Day services. We have sent hundreds of letters out to organizations asking for their support to do this and we get little to no response.
We're disappointed that schools are not out that day. County and state offices are closed. If the county and state isn't working, why are schools in? Everything with the exception of retail, banks and so-forth, is going to be closed. That's what kind of puzzles us.
The Meridian Star: How does this year's parade compare to last year's parade?
Swartz: More groups tried to get into the parade last year. I don't want to belittle the several thousand people who were killed in the World Trade Center, but they jumped on the bandwagon more or less. I noticed there were more entries for last year's parade than this year's parade.
For Meridian not to support a Veterans Day parade is kind of ludicrous. You have the 186th Air Refueling Squadron here where men are rotating on a monthly basis to places overseas. We have Naval Air Station Meridian, two Army National Guard units, a helicopter and an engineering unit that would be called up for a major conflict because of the downsizing of the active duty military.
This place would be almost a ghost town if the 186th ever deployed as a full unit anywhere. There's almost 1,200 people in that unit. If the helicopter or engineering units deployed, the city would see a large void in the work force. I know in the helicopter unit there is a large contingent of Mississippi State Police, so you would lose people there.
There are large guard units in Mississippi that are front line units, support units and transportation units. During Desert Storm there were units brought to Saudi Arabia with trucks just to haul mail.