One good way for the nation to honor the men and women who fought its wars is by enlarging NATO to help assure peace in Europe, President Clinton said Tuesday in marking Veterans Day.
In his remarks, at Arlington National Cemetery, the president urged the Senate to approve an expansion of the Western alliance to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
He said he hoped senators would “remember the lessons our veterans have taught us - that Europe’s security is vital to our own, that allying with Europe’s democracy is our best sword and shield and that it is far, far better to prevent wars than to wage them.”
Clinton placed a wreath of red, white and blue flowers at the Tomb of the Unknowns before the playing of “Taps.”
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Clinton’s drug policy adviser said Americans should reach out to Vietnam veterans, many of whom continue to suffer from drug abuse and alcoholism.
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a Vietnam and Gulf War Army veteran, said at least 80,000 Vietnam veterans still suffer from severe service-connected disabilities. Around 6 percent suffer from drug dependence and 11 percent from alcoholism, McCaffrey said.
“This continuing heavy human toll demands that we Americans vigorously support the finest possible health care in our Veterans Administration facilities,” he said.
He also said people are often surprised to hear about the accomplishments of Vietnam veterans.
“Our comrades in arms are now leading all facets of public and private life,” he said. “We are governors, senators, members of Congress, mayors, Cabinet officials, sergeants major and commanders in all our services.”
The ceremony also marked the 15th anniversary of the dedication of the black granite wall, which is engraved with the names of 58,209 Americans killed in Vietnam.
Emmylou Harris brought the crowd of veterans to their feet and to tears as she sang “50,000 Names” with songwriter Jamie O’Hara.
Veteran Joe Castillo helped close the ceremony as he ended his crosscountry journey on his horse Indio.
Castillo read a list of names of his buddies who had talked about traveling the country together when they returned from the war, but Castillo was the only one who came home alive, said Jan Scruggs, who led the effort to build the wall.
Castillo decided to make the trip alone on horseback. He began in August in Fort Collins, Colo., meeting veterans along the way and having them sign an American flag that he carried.
In New York, veterans on foot and in wheelchairs paraded to honor their dead comrades and set an example for the nation’s young.
“This day means a lot to me,” said Angelo Bianco, 39, of New Egypt, N.J., an Air Force veteran whose service was ended in 1992 by a mishap while flying food to Kurds in the aftermath of the Gulf War.
“My father was a World War II vet,” said Bianco, sitting with a contingent of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association. “I hope the next generation will have those values he gave me, of patriotism and service.”
And a large contingent of Russian immigrants marched behind a banner of the “American Association of Invalids and Veterans of World War 2 from the Former USSR.” Most wore civilian clothes covered with military decorations. Among the few in uniform was Solomon Finkelshteyn, now of Brooklyn, in the green uniform with red piping of a Red Army colonel.