My neighbor Ted Fowler pens a letter in anticipation of Memorial Day urging South Dakotans to protect the meaning of “veteran” and refer House Bill 1179 to a vote:
This Memorial Day, when you see flags flying and hear words being spoken, remember what they represent and for whom they are being spoken. It is all about our nation’s Veterans, those individuals, men and women, past, present and future, who have served and sacrificed for the United States of America and South Dakota.
If you want to become or wanted to become a Veteran, all you need or needed to do was say, “I want to go, send me. I want to be federalized.” That means that you want to be given the opportunity to serve, to do your duty for your country and state. This is what makes a Veteran and only after serving and doing your duty, do you earn the right to be called a Veteran with all the honors, thanks, problems and issues that may or may not come with it.
The South Dakota Legislature passed House Bill 1179, entitled An Act To Revise the Definition of a Veteran. The proponents of it, the Legislature and the governor are wrong!
The South Dakota Veterans for Veterans Committee is gathering signatures from the residents of SD to refer this issue for a vote of the people. If asked to sign the petition please do so, or better yet, ask if you can circulate one. Then in November, 2016 vote to right this wrong. Thank you [Ted G. Fowler, letter to the editor, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2015.05.13].
Fowler is the Vietnam-era Army veteran who started the referendum drive against HB 1179. The “federalization” of which he speaks is the difference between soldiers who enlist or were drafted into national military and those who enlist in the South Dakota National Guard, a distinction that HB 1179 removes from South Dakota’s laws determining veterans’ benefits.
John Tsitrian, another Vietnam veteran, says he doesn’t mind sharing the designation “veteran” with National Guard alums:
From my perspective as a Marine with a combat tour at the DMZ in Vietnam from 1966-1968, I appreciate anybody who has suited up with a uniform that says United States of America. By definition, those people are willing to go out and fight if called upon to do so. That some actually get into a position to stop bullets while many others do not is no reason to discriminate among those who’ve served honorably. History and circumstance determine who gets picked to do the many jobs required by service. All who wear that uniform are ready to become warriors as soon as they take their oaths of induction or enlistment, regardless of branch, regardless of the terms of their service, active duty or reserve.
Their willingness to do so is about as commendable an act of citizenship and patriotism as any I can think of. Institutionalizing a show of appreciation for those folks by including them in the benefit pool of those we call “veterans” seems a worthy way for South Dakota to say “thanks” [John Tsitrian, “So Just Exactly Who Is A Veteran, Anyway? To Me, Everybody Who Suited Up And Served Honorably Qualifies,” The Constant Commoner, 2015.05.01].
Fowler says that most veterans he speaks to around Aberdeen oppose HB 1179. Tsitrian (not to mention Marine turned Rep. Mathew Wollmann, prime sponsor of HB 1179) provides a useful counterexample and suggests that referrers can’t count on a unified veterans vote if they place HB 1179 on the ballot.