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Memorial Day Coming; Expect Discussion of Referendum on Definition of “Veteran”

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.


  1. jerry 2015-05-14 12:57

    As a veteran, I have served with national guard troops in Vietnam in 1969. The captain of the artillery unit that was on LZ Ross in the Que Son Valley, was one of hundreds of guardsmen that were called up in the big surge of 1969 when we had over 500,000 American belly buttons on the ground there. I do not know if he was personally shot at, but do know that when we were pulling bunker line, he did get awful close to an incoming mortar or two. In the current situations, the guardsmen are doing a lot of heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan for sure. I stand with them and agree with John T.

  2. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-14 15:06

    When I was in high school and then college in the 60s and early 70s, there were 4 ways to dodge the draft: (Jerry and John, correct me if I’m wrong.)
    1. Leave the country.
    2. Get a deferment. (Darth Cheney)
    3. Join the national guard. (GWB)
    4. Imprisonment for draft dodging.

    Some went to Canada or Mexico. My cousin joined the local guard. My brother planned to join the guard, but his draft lottery number was in the 300s. There were college deferments, physical or mental disability, and others.

    Jerry, wasn’t it quite rare for national guard units to go to Vietnam? At any rate, now it’s common place for guard units to leave the country and serve in battle areas. The guard is a different critter now.

  3. MOSES 2015-05-14 19:46


  4. jerry 2015-05-14 20:25

    Deb, here is some info regarding National Guard units that were engaged in Vietnam. “On May 13, 1968, 12,234 Army National Guardsmen in 20 units from 17 states were mobilized for service during the Vietnam War. Eight units deployed to Vietnam and over 7,000 Army Guardsmen served in the war zone. Company D (Ranger), 151st Infantry, Indiana Army National Guard arrived in Vietnam in December 1968.”

    I came in country in January of 1969 so we were there at about the same time. “By the time all was said and done, 101 National Guard soldiers, army and air, would never again see the United States”.

    Yeah, so they came and they fought and some were wounded and some died there. If that ain’t the definition of a soldier than what is? I do not and have not ever seen the reason we would think otherwise. Some of these soldiers were never getting shot at, but, a lot were. I am thinking, many of the vets complaining now were not getting shot at either. Why not embrace our brothers in arms and move the hell on down the road. Thanks for your service you crazy bunch and welcome to the fold, let us buy the first round.

  5. owen 2015-05-14 20:37

    Mr. Tsitrian has written another good column and I thank him for sticking up with people who served in the Guards and were not “lucky” enough to in combat because there were no wars going on when we served.
    I have nothing but total respect for Tsitrian and all the Vietnam vets who risked their lives.

    But my idea of a vet is my late father-in-law. He was a medic in Europe during WWII. He told me some stories that were scary to say the least.
    After he got out and returned to South Dakota he married and raised a family. Looking at him you wouldn’t know he was in WWII. He didn’t walk around with a vest saying he was in WWII and the only time he’d wear anything related to his service was his legion hat that he’d wear going to the Legion Hall.
    How proud was he of his service to his country? Near the end of his life he picked out the casket that he’d be in for all of eternity. That casket had the American flag on each corner.
    That is my definition of a vet. My father-in-law served his country well and then went on with his life and at the end showed everybody how proud he really was to serve and how much he loved his country.

  6. Jana 2015-05-14 21:47

    As the parent of a National Guard member I can only say that I am proud of my son who has sacrificed and trained to defend the country in wars abroad and assist at home when needed. I’m hoping that the people that live along the Missouri during the floods and in communities hit by tornadoes also appreciate the service and sacrifice.

    For those thinking that Guard members who signed up and pledged their life don’t deserve veteran status, I’ll leave you with one name. Spc. Dennis Morgan. Look it up, he’s earned it.

  7. jerry 2015-05-14 22:01

    Jana, please let your son know that he is appreciated by many of us, we thank him and those like him who do what they do. He is no different than I in my book, regarding his status.

  8. Jana 2015-05-14 23:15

    Thanks Jerry!

    I was a peace freak in the late 60’s and 70’s and my viewpoint hasn’t changed much. But proud of so many family members who have served and are serving today. My extended family had 4 in WWII, 1 in Korea and 3 in Vietnam that made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s why I pray for peace.

  9. John 2015-05-15 08:48

    HB1179 dumbs down the meaning, significance, and commitment of being a veteran. The federal definition of being a veteran is a low hurdle: ‘prior to 7 September 1980 the veteran must have served at least 180 days of active duty, after the above-mentioned date, the veteran must have served at least 24 months. Exceptions are made for those medically retired prior to those times.’ That’s it. Being a veteran means having given it all up for the cause. It means leaving “home” or having home in your rucksack.

    The definition of veteran should never be conferred on the stay-at-home crowd, regardless of their character of service, for they too had the opportunity to serve the nation yet sought not to.

  10. Don Coyote 2015-05-15 10:14

    There are several light years of difference between today’s total volunteer military and the 60’s early 70’s draft supplemented military.

    Remember that in the 50’s and 60’s it wasn’t unusual for judges to use the military as an alternative to jail for a number of miscreants. Jimi Hendrix was one who hardly distinguished himself as a member of the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles”. After a year of being a slackard, Hendrix was given a honorable discharge just to get him out of the military. South Dakota’s own juvenile delinquent Bill Janklow was also given the choice of military or jail. Hello USMC, ’56-’59.

    While sounding counterintuitive, many men enlisted in the Air Force or Navy as way of avoiding combat during the Vietnam era because enlistees were given the choice of assignments and unless you were a pilot, were easily able to avoid combat. Thanks to the draft, enlistment numbers were robust indeed for the Air Force and Navy just as they were for the Guard.

    Against the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs, the Guard and Reserves weren’t used extensively during the Vietnam War because of a political calculation by LBJ to avoid the appearance of a total war. Why drafting 2.2M men was considered the better option is beyond reason but you gotta love LBJ’s krazy political logic.

    I never had the inclination to serve, drew a high lottery number in the lottery and would have been classified 4-F because of surgical metal in my body. I do salute all those veterans who have served honorably including my brother who served in the South Dakota Air National Guard during the
    Vietnam Era. If this referred law makes it on the ballot I will certainly vote against it as will my entire family.

  11. jerry 2015-05-15 10:21

    John, are you a veteran?

  12. Craig 2015-05-15 10:27

    I consider anyone who has served in the military to be a veteran. I don’t care if they serve in active duty, a member of the reserve, or a member of the guard. Fact is they can, and often are, be called up and placed in combat where they could be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice.

    The state can define the term in other ways, but I’ll continue to admire those who have served regardless of whether it was full-time or the “weekend warrior”.

  13. Steven Seitz 2015-05-15 15:56

    There is a big difference between being in the service during the time of war and serving in a combat zone overseas. Just because you sat state side and were ready to be deployed but “never got the chance” doesn’t make you a veteran. I was amazed when this Republican offered up this bill and was dumbfounded when it was passed. Maybe he should have gone to the VA hospital in Sioux Falls and visited some real veterans before thinking about sponsoring this legislation. Now who do I contact to get this piece of legislation off the books! And before you reply and ask, yes I served in the USMC during Desert Storm, 0311 infantry.

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