Barack Obama told West Virginia voters today that a test of real patriotism is giving veterans the care and services they need -- a test he argued that the Bush administration has sorely failed in a "betrayal of the ideals that we ask our troops to risk their lives for."
"We must never forget that honoring this service and upholding these ideals requires more than saluting our veterans as they march by on Veterans Day or Memorial Day," he said, according to prepared remarks. "It requires marching with them for the care and benefits they have earned It requires standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our veterans and their families after the guns fall silent and the cameras are turned off. At a time when we’re facing the largest homecoming since the Second World War, the true test of our patriotism is whether we will serve our returning heroes as well as they’ve served us," said Obama, who has been criticized for not wearing a flag lapel pin.
The Democratic front-runner renewed his call for creating a "21st century VA," for expanding treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and for a new GI bill for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In calling for expanding services and benefits, Obama also talked at length of personal memories of his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who enlisted after the Pearl Harbor attacks, fought with General George Patton during World War II, and is buried in a national cemetery in Hawaii with Pearl Harbor victims.
"I knew him when he was older," Obama said, according to the prepared version of the speech. "But whenever I meet young men and women along the campaign trail who are serving in the military today, I think about what my grandfather was like when he enlisted – a fresh-faced man of twenty-three, with a hearty laugh and an easy smile."
"I can still remember the day that we laid my grandfather to rest," Obama continued. "In a cemetery lined with the graves of Americans who have sacrificed for our country, we heard the solemn notes of Taps and the crack of guns fired in salute; we watched as a folded flag was handed to my grandmother and my grandfather was laid to rest. It was a nation’s final act of service and gratitude to Stanley Dunham – an America that stood by my grandfather when he took off the uniform, and never left his side."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.