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Public Outcry Saves Iconic WWII Photo from VA Bureaucrat’s Cancel Culture

I’ve always been intrigued by World War II. I’ve read around 25 books about every aspect of it. I had to see the film
“Oppenheimer” the weekend it debuted. I’m intrigued not just by the gigantic public figures like Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin but by the average Americans who fought and defeated the Nazis and the Japanese Imperial Army.

This background is reason that whenever great photos come up on my radio show, I always choose “The Kiss.” It is the iconic photo Alfred Eisenstaedt took of a sailor kissing a dental assistant who he thought was a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, August 14, 1945.

To me, this kiss captured the celebration of the war ending and the relief felt by George Mendonsa, the sailor who kissed the woman. The relief reflected that Mendonsa and thousands of others would not have to return to the Pacific and invade Japan. That invasion most likely would have resulted in the deaths of 500,000 or more Americans.

That celebratory kiss makes me reflect on the wise decision of President Harry Truman to use the atomic bomb on Japan. Truman saved not only American lives but also possibly millions of Japanese citizens who would have died defending their home islands.

However, this photo, despite all that context, does sit well with the woke mob that has decided, like so many other customs, statues, and phrases, must be censored and diminished to satisfy their view of the world. The Me Too Movement tried to portray this kiss as akin to sexual assaults on women that were exposed in recent years.

In the last few days, some woke Veterans Administration officials led by RimaAnn Nelson, the agency’s assistant undersecretary for Health for Operations, banned the photo from all Veterans Administration facilities. She railed that showing the photo in VA hospitals “could be construed as a tacit endorsement of the inappropriate behavior it depicts.” The memo was a word salad of the mindset of the woke, who seemingly live to be offended and engage in targeting anything that reflects traditional America.

Once this memo was publicly exposed on social media, a firestorm forced Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough to say he was originally unaware of the memo. It said the photo would not be banned from VA facilities.

There is a silver lining in this. I did not know Mendonsa thought he was kissing a nurse and was partly inspired to do it because three months before, he watched in awe as nurses worked to save the lives of men from the USS Bunker Hill who had been severely burned and injured by explosions set off by two Japanese kamikaze planes that had struck the ship.

The principle that should be used in judging past actions and how we should treat them is to look at the context of the times. What could possess RimaAnn Nelson not to use that standard? Did she not see this photo as something that has endured and become so beloved there is a giant statue depicting it in San Diego? Her memo constantly references the need for a respectful atmosphere in VA facilities. Where is her respect?

Cancel culture is being effectively challenged on many fronts. However, it is not dead. It thrives in government operations like the VA, on many college campuses, and in progressive cities.

Today, I’ll celebrate this win and think of the Greatest Generation of Americans and the jubilation they felt on August 14, 1945, knowing they could get on with their lives.

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Warrior Call: Serving Those Now Suffering After Serving Us

It was a day Frank Larkin will never forget. In April 2017, his son Ryan F. Larkin, a Navy SEAL who was struggling following his return to civilian life, committed suicide in the basement of the family’s home.

“He was wearing his SEAL Team 7 T-shirt, red, white, and blue board shorts, and illuminated a shadow box next to where he was,” said Larkin as he choked up while talking with DCJournal.

He had just recounted how his son fought a losing battle not only inside his own head but with the Veterans Administration. “He says… ‘All they do is keep writing me prescriptions and these drugs, I don’t even feel like I’m in my own body.’ And he said to me, ‘I’m banged up inside.’”

Government statistics say there were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths in 2020, almost 60 percent higher than non-veteran adults. The next year, 519 active-duty members of the Armed Forces took their own lives.

Larkin, a former Navy SEAL and Secret Service agent who also served as the 40th U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms, used his son’s death to form Warrior Call. It connects veterans and former first responders with resources to help them get past isolation and thoughts of suicide.

“In many cases, it’s because the time they spent in service to our country is not well understood by our society,” Larkin said. “So, when they come out of their service, or while they’re still in uniform, there’s kind of a translation challenge with folks who are on the outside that have not served to understand what life is in uniform.”

Visible injuries sustained while on duty may be one reason why veterans and first responders have trouble adapting to civilian life. But invisible injuries also exist, mainly in the form of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). In March, researchers from the Naval Health Research Center discovered a combination of high-level and low-level blasts may increase the chances of military members later developing migraines and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is a recipe for disaster in the brain, the researchers noted, when combined with injuries from either contact sports or a car or vehicle accident.

Their conclusion was there is a need for “public health surveillance initiatives for blast exposure and or safety recommendations for training and operational environments.”

The good news is Congress seems to be getting on board. The Senate has passed a resolution making November 12 National Warrior Call Day. It encourages Americans to call active duty military members, veterans, and first responders and talk with them about how they are feeling. The resolution implores people to connect veterans with support, knowing that it could save their lives.

“Those who have taken the oath to defend our country deserve our appreciation and support long after their service ends,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in a statement. She and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) co-wrote the Warrior Call Day resolution. “I’m glad the Senate passed my bipartisan resolution that, if signed into law, would designate a National Warrior Call Day to help raise awareness and strengthen the relationship between veterans and civilians.”

The House has yet to vote on National Warrior Call Day, something that has caused Larkin to feel frustrated. He wants veterans and first responders to realize that they are not alone. “Much of this work, at least the advancement of the knowledge of what’s going on, especially with regard to brain health, is occurring in the nonprofit and the private sector with a lot of the universities and research institutions that are not aligned with the government,” he said.

He hopes people will start checking up on veterans that they know. “If you sense that they’re not in a good place, then get them tied up with some resources that potentially can help pull them out of the darkness and get them to a better place.”

Larkin vows to not stop until veterans get all the help that they can get. He sees Warrior Call as part of the solution. “That became my mission… After [my son’s] death, I knew what he wanted, and I picked up that baton, and I’m just leaning forward.”

DelVal Veterans Struggle to Get Promised Services

Shaking with adrenaline, Robert McLaughlin was “raging” when he went to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia for help.

It has been five years since that harrowing encounter, but the Air Force veteran, now 32 and living in Bensalem, recalled the day with striking clarity, in an interview ahead of Veteran’s Day.

It changed his life for the better — and could have altered it for the worse if a caretaker hadn’t intervened.

McLaughlin, who served for five years starting in 2007, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder when he came home after spending time working in the burn pits in Iraq and doing tours of  duty in Afghanistan and Qatar.

Courtesy of Robert McLaughlin

He was stressed about his future and struggling financially. He had quit a job as an assistant manager at Wendy’s to start a fledgling dog-training business.

Tired of fighting with Veterans Affairs officials to honor his benefits, he was agitated and suicidal, having put a gun in his mouth several times before the visit.

The nurse at the front desk of the emergency room ran McLaughlin through standard intake questions. When she got to the last question, asking whether he was homicidal or suicidal, McLaughlin almost snapped.

“No, not right now. But I’m getting there,” he responded, prompting the nurse to reach under the table and hit the panic button, alerting security at the facility. “It was like the bell went off in a [boxing] ring.”

Unfortunately, McLaughlin’s horror story isn’t unique.

In 2015, a year before McLaughlin’s visit, another veteran, Gary Dorman, jumped to his death from the VA parking garage after seeking psychiatric treatment at the facility.

And area veterans who spoke with the Delaware Valley Journal recalled similar struggles as McLaughlin in gaining access to adequate healthcare, housing, employment, and services that would help them reintegrate into society after their tours of duty.

Philadelphia ranked as one of the worst major cities to live for the more than 19 million veterans in the U.S., according to a recent survey examining 100 of the nation’s biggest cities along several socioeconomic factors.

Cities were graded based on the number of skill-specific job offerings for vets, income levels, overall “veteran-friendliness,” and other factors. The results were less than lovely for the City of Brotherly Love, which came in 91st with a score of 44.1, ahead only of places like North Las Vegas, Newark, Jersey City, Baltimore and Detroit — which finished dead last.

The top three cities, respectively, were Tampa Bay, Austin, Texas, and Scottsdale, Arizona. They all provide significant opportunities for employment, better healthcare, and overall quality of life for vets, according to the survey. One expert cited in the report, Kevin Griffith, an assistant professor who teaches health policy at Vanderbilt University, said veterans are at higher risk for certain health disorders, such as PTSD and hepatitis C, than the rest of society.

Finding cities with robust healthcare facilities, either through the VA or private medical networks, that can address combat-specific issues such as “survivor’s guilt” can be the difference between life and death for veterans.

McLaughlin found that out the hard way, saying he undoubtedly would have come to blows with VA security if his wife hadn’t called a hospital coordinator who called off the officers.

“Pain kinda engages me. When you rage you have all this power that they build up in our bodies for warfare, and you come home and you have no way to get this out. I think they want us to lose our sh*t. If I go to jail, I don’t get my veterans benefits,” said McLaughlin, who has visited the Philly VA so many times in recent years that he’s memorized the address —3900 Woodland Avenue.

“If I had a genie who said, ‘What do you want?’ I’d say ‘I want 3900 Woodland Avenue to go away.’ It would take away a leg of their facade [of help],” he said.

Growing up in the “Black Bottom” Mantua section in West Philadelphia, Rodney Wyatt, a 67-year-old veteran who served in both the U.S. Marines and Army, said he joined the armed forces in the 1970s to escape poverty during times of great racial strife and get away from neighborhood gangs.

He was initiated into the “grandfather of all gangs” when he was 10 years old.

“It was a way of life at the time,” he said.

Knowing what it’s like to suffer from his own injuries after getting out of service, Wyatt started a Bristol-based nonprofit, Salute to Veterans, in 2014, helping veterans, some in their 90s, get “basic necessities” they need to live, to offset unmet gaps from agencies in the area.

In 2015, Philly officials claimed the city’s homeless veteran population was “functionally zero,” but The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this year that many veterans are still living on the streets. The Philly VA in 2020 reported that it found housing for at least 935 local veterans.

And with the suburban shelter overrun, Wyatt said some homeless vets were forced to live in the woods while others were waitlisted for services. While his organization helps between 10 to 25 veterans a week, Wyatt lamented a 94-year-old who died before the organization could clear the red tape to get the man his benefits.

“They take them through the ringer,” Wyatt said. “There’s so many disparities here. We’re the most overlooked population in the county. We need to be spotlighting veterans every day.”

Wyatt regularly fields calls from frustrated veterans who try to get help at the Philly VA, which has faced some bad publicity over the years.

In 2020, the feds charged a manager at the hospital with accepting thousands of dollars in kickbacks to steer contracts to a Florida couple, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Federal prosecutors indicted another 15 VA employees and business owners in Florida the year before, for alleging they schemed to bilk millions marked for veterans’ care through inflated or unfulfilled purchase orders.

Money like that could have been funneled to help disabled veterans like 63-year-old Darryl Williams, of Bristol Township, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina between 1975 and 1979. Before being diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, six years ago, Williams drove big rigs across the county, up and down the West Coast and as far away as Canada.

His condition has worsened, making it nearly impossible for him to drive and difficult to even fill out paperwork to get his benefits. He now gets along in a motorized wheelchair and must be hooked up to a half-dozen machines to keep him alive.

Williams requires in-home care but said the VA has fought paying for certain services, like housekeeping. It took him a year to get the financial assistance to make his Bristol home handicap accessible, requiring floors to be redone and entrances widened.

The VA will only cover expenses for someone to come out to his home and make up his bed and cook his meals, wanting Williams to transition over to hospice.

“When I die, I plan to die in my home,” said Williams, who has been hospitalized at least twice in the last few months with breathing complications. “It’s hard to find assistance because people expect you to do it on your own. And then they tell me to go to some website. I do have a computer but it’s not easy to operate when your hands are shaking.

“I just stay close to God. And just deal with the situation and try not to get angry. It does get frustrating because I didn’t ask for this. It just happened. Bad things happen to good people. It’s just a roll of the dice.”


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