I never got to know my mother's father, John F. Jordan, very well. From what I remember, he was a polite and reserved man who liked baseball, and spending time in his garden outside a quaint home in Queens. As a boy, I remember wondering why he was so quiet, while the rest of the family was so loud. Years later I would find out why.
During World War II, my grandfather served with General Patton's 3rd Army. He fought in France, Germany and in the Battle of the Bulge. While fighting in the Bulge, he came under heavy fire. To save the lives of his fellow soldiers, my grandfather tied a cable to a burning trailer of explosives and towed the exploding shells away with his tractor. He single-handedly pulled wounded GIs to safety. For this act of bravery and more, he was awarded the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and five Bronze Stars. My grandfather was a hero in the truest sense of the word. I hope his valiance lives inside me, but pray my courage is never tested in the way his was. For there is a toll that comes with such heroism.
As an eight-year-old, I remember watching my grandfather smoke a cigarette outside in his garden, and with each inhale and exhale he was recalling something deep inside him. Like so many men and women who've served in battle, I imagine the images of what happened long ago in a far-off land were always close for my grandfather.
The kind of courage my grandfather possessed is on display everyday in the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the majority of our country has moved on or ignored what is happening, or has happened in these wars, bright and brave twenty-somethings are coming home paralyzed, maimed, severely burned and scarred both emotionally and physically. How soldiers come to terms with, and rise above, what they've seen over a few months, a few weeks or even a moment during their tours of duty, will define their lives. It's easy to honor this sacrifice in a day filled with parade and salutes, but it is much harder to live with it, day in and day out, for the rest of your life.
Our troops are coming home to problems that are arguably worse than what they faced on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan: the unemployment rate for veterans is double the already high national average, homelessness among veterans, especially among female veterans, is on the rise, a recent study showed that nearly half the troops returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom are suffering from at least one mental health condition like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and according to a recent article in the Huffington Post: a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes. This Veterans Day, we must, as a nation, do better for those willing to serve and stand for our freedom.
Over the past few weeks, I've gotten to work with the Entertainment Industry Foundation on their "Rise and Honor" initiative. It launches tonight with the broadcast of: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition "Rise and Honor" A Veterans Day Special. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has a long and good history honoring veterans and bringing to light the challenges they face. With "Rise and Honor," they take it a step further, as tonight's broadcast will serve as a telethon raising money for the Fisher House Foundation, Hire Heroes USA, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, USO, Volunteers of America and Welcome Back Veterans. These organizations are doing God's work in helping our veterans find jobs, find housing and find a way back from the horrors of war. Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and the inspiring Iraq War veteran J.R. Martinez, are participating in this broadcast, which will pull at your heartstrings -- I promise. I hope it pulls on them enough to inspire you to donate whatever you can to help.
I didn't see my grandfather for a few years before he passed away. There was a family feud and sadly, our relationship was a casualty of it. When he died, there was a 21-gun salute as his funeral. I was a self-centered teenager at the time, and didn't get the significance of what that meant. And I regrettably wasn't present to witness it. Over the past few weeks, in reading stat after stat of the harsh challenges facing our veterans including conditions like PSTD, the few memories I had of my grandfather began to wash over me, and I felt, for the first time, enormous pride in what he did to serve our country and our world. I see a through line in his greatest generation to ours. The best way to honor our past is making the lives of those in the present a little better. It's why I hope this Veterans Day, we all remember to rise and honor.