LEBANON, Missouri- Army veteran and Lebanon mayor Josh Ray addressed Purple Heart Day ceremony at the Mills Center on August 7, 2016. The following is a transcript of his comments:

“I’m not going to lie to you, speaking of wounded veterans requires more effort for me than most other topics.  It is difficult to remain focused and composed.  My emotions run high.  I’ve been beside myself all morning due to how much my brothers and sisters-in-arms mean to me.  I want my words to match their sacrifices, which is an impossible goal.

I read things in the newspaper and on the Internet about Purple Heart Cities, Purple Heart Counties, and the like, and can’t help but feel that those terms are hollow to the point of insulting.  Often, these terms mean nothing more than a feel good moment for people who have no understanding of service member sacrifice.  There is a political proclamation, a picture or two, and nothing of substance afterward.

These things are dog and pony shows, superficially meant to show honor and respect for veterans who, like me, dislike such things.  A veteran knows that actions speak louder than words.  A veteran understands that saying something is never more important than DOING something.  Please forgive me for my negativity on the subject, but to me our veterans, namely those who’ve been wounded in combat, deserve more.

We can say all the right things, but there needs to be more than that for our words of appreciation to have meaning.  For Lebanon and Laclede County to be true to our veterans, we need to SHOW appreciation.  Events such as this are a step in the right direction, as the organizer, Donna Mason, has a genuine concern for our nation’s service members and veterans.  This Purple Heart Day event is a solid foundation.

In my opinion, building upon that foundation means involvement of veterans in how our community progresses.  There has been a lapse in veteran involvement in the direction of our nation between the greatest generation of World War II and now.  I believe we are nearing a new era of active veterans in communities across the United States who dealt with the brunt of the consequences from that lapse of true veteran leadership.  All those veterans need is our support.

As I was blindsiding our community with my run for mayor, I heard quite a few locals say they were tired of hearing about my military experience.  The nebulous idea of veterans and patriotism was easy for them to buy into and exploit, but I made it inconvenient for them.  It was just too close to home, I guess.

While serving on planning and zoning, I dealt with an entire neighborhood freaking out about a possible veterans home on their street.  If I repeated some of the things that neighborhood’s representative said about veterans and their surviving family members, all in the same breath as their repeated hollow “respect” for veterans, it’d make blood boil.  I know.  I listened firsthand.

As I think of my brothers and sisters I’ve lost and those who came home breathing but who left their mind or soul behind on the battlefield, I realize that they represent the best our country has to offer.

They deserve our appreciation.

They deserved our respect.

They deserve to be just as involved here in our communities as we forced them to be in other countries.

My heart is with my fellow veterans.  My life is owed to our purple heart minority.

Thank you.”

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Photo courtesy of Melinda Fries