The United States of America is home to 21.2 million veterans, and as these Veteran’s Day stories demonstrate, we honor our veterans in an exceptional manner, as no other nation on earth. As of 2012, there were more than 1.5 million living veterans who had served in more than one war, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Though the overwhelming majority of veterans — 9.6 million — are age 65 or older, nearly 1.8 million veterans are under the age of 35.
Let’s begin with the story of one such young veteran, whose community felt that his indomitable spirit and willingness to give in spirit warranted him receiving a Veteran’s Day thank you, in spades.
Jamie Goodreau’s U.S. History Class Hero
October 21, 2013: 27-year-old Iraq war veteran Jerral Hancock, sitting on an electric wheelchair, and members of Operation All The Way Home(OATH) chant their slogans after a meeting at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Calif. The seniors in Jamie Goodreau’s high school history class learned Hancock was stuck in a modest mobile home for months, unable to travel the 70 miles to the nearest VA hospital in Los Angeles to have his bedsores treated or his rotting teeth fixed. Goodreau’s students, who each year raise a few thousand dollars for veterans, decided to make Hancock their cause. (AP Photo)
Jerral Hancock, a veteran of the Iraq war, came home minus one arm, another arm severely disabled, and a paralyzing burning all over his body. When he returned to the Mojave Desert town of Lancaster, a town that exudes immense military pride, he was a hero.
Hancock was something of a celebrity in the Antelope Valley. The Valley, located in the farthest northeast corner of Los Angeles County, is extraordinarily proud of its military history and ties. The Air Force’s B-1B bomber was built there, and it was at Edwards Air Force Base that legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager made history when he became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.
Though Alaska is home to the most veterans, with 13.6 percent of its adult population having served in the military, the area is home to more veterans per capita than any other place in America.
Jerral was all too happy and willing to cut ribbons, waved to people during town parades, and give out fist bumps, because he cannot fully shake hands due to his injuries.
But when the crowds were gone and Hancock went home, his two young children and his parents were all he had. People assumed that a veteran with such substantial injuries would be taking care of and supported by the Veteran’s Administration. They believe that, in large part, because he let them.
“I don’t like to complain,” he told the reporter quietly, adding that he suffers recurring dreams of burning to death in a tank.
Over time, he had literally become stuck in his mobile home, “like being in prison,” with a broken down handicapped-accessible van unable to bring him anywhere he needed to go. The hallways of his small residence were so narrow, Hancock couldn’t even get his wheelchair to fit through them, isolating him to an even smaller confinement.
As so many other disabled veterans, it seemed as if a substandard existence, unfit for a hero would be his reality. Jerral had bought a mobile home near his mother’s place in Lancaster before he was injured. It was small but a good first home for a young guy with a wife, two kids and a dog. But he hadn’t planned on coming home in a wheelchair, and he didn’t plan for his wife leave him and his 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter when the going got tough. Now, his mother and stepfather are his caretakers.
But Jamie Goodreau’s U.S. history classes had other plans than to allow his hardship to continue. After learning that Jerral Hancock had been struggling and confined for half a year, Goodreau’s students selflessly resolved to build Hancock a new home, a handicapped accessible home fit for a hero. For the past 15 years, Goodreau’s classes have conducted their end-of-the-year project to honor veterans, which typically included raising $25,000 or $30,000 for veterans charities and a celebratory dinner.
It’s been six months since, and the students have recently closed escrow on a $264,000 property, which blueprints have been drawn up for and the students plan to break ground next month.
Hancock says that since the Jamie Goodreau’s history students took up their effort the nightmares have pretty much stopped, as helping the students with their effort has re-instilled in him a sense of purpose.
“They gave up their last summer of high school for me,” he says in a voice filled with awe.
In reality, they gave up more than that. Goodreau’s veteran projects typically concludes when the summer ends. This year’s group, say they will continue the project they dubbed “Operation All The Way Home” until Hancock has a new roof over his head, which should be by next summer.
Nicole Skinner, a 17 student who already graduated in June and is now a college freshman, gave the best reflective comment.
“Just look at him, man. Many people these days are complaining about their lives and you look at him and what he’s been through, and he’s still smiling and all. He’s not complaining,” Skinner said.
“He’s just so motivating.”
The FDNY is heading up a mission, which they hope will gather fire and police departments, to help as many veterans as possible in need of one to get a track chair. Over the past year, Bill O’Reilly also teamed up with the Independence Fund to take on a similar goal.
Danny Prince, a FDNY firefighter, says that after he saw the Independence Fund on the O’Reilly Factor the FDNY embarked on their mission. “They had to do something to pay back these veterans who deserve the best,” Prince said to Brian Kilmeade on “Fox & Friends” this morning.
One of the first charity events was put together by another firefighter, Mike Alexander, which paid for five track chairs. These particular chairs cost $15,000 a piece, but are top of the line for those with sever handicaps, as they help them across all terrain environments.
Operation Shoe Box
Operation Shoebox ships different types of care items coupled with thank you notes, many to servicemen and women deployed in accordance with the needs of the U.S. military around the globe.
Today, on Veteran’s Day, they shipped their one-millionth package. Fox News Senior Meteorologist Janice Dean, had the honor of being the organization’s “millionth” packer.
Honoring Our Oldest Living Veteran Who Says Whiskey Is The Secret
Richard Overton, who at 107-years-old is America’s oldest living veteran on record, was honored last week at a Veterans Day ceremony in Austin, Texas. Overton received a standing ovation and a box of cigars, which is another vice only his generation would cite as a secret for longevity, along with whiskey.
Overton says he takes no medicine, save for aspirin. But he sure smokes cigars — often 12 a day — and drinks whiskey along with his morning coffee, which is something many a fifth of his age cannot say they do. Another secret to living a long time, Overton told the Houston Chronicle, is “staying out of trouble.”
“I also stay busy around the yards, I trim trees, help with the horses,” he said. “The driveways get dirty, so I clean them. I do something to keep myself moving. I don’t watch television.”
Overton served in the U.S. Army during World War II, stationed in Hawaii and fought in some of the most deadly battles of the war, including Guam, Palau and Iwo Jima. He now lives in Austin.
On Sunday, Overton was honored in Washington, D.C. by President Barack Obama as part of the White House’s Veterans Day festivities.
“The president wants me to come with him,” Overton said. “I’m surprised he called me.”
Read A Special Veteran’s Day Message From The Editor