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Memorial Day Rhetoric

May 27, 2014

Memorial Day is like most American holidays: a great time for picnics, hotdogs, family gatherings, vacations and political speeches. In other words, a day off from work to do everything but reflect on the origin and meaning of the day.

Memorial Day 2014 was no different as both Minnesota senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, spoke about taking care of the nation’s veterans. Both senators, in response to the unfolding scandal at the Carl Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, which allegedly resulted in 40 veteran deaths, spoke about supporting a review of wait times at Minnesota’s VA hospitals.

While Franken spoke about restoring veterans’ trust in the VA system, Klobuchar was a bit more pragmatic: “When our soldiers signed up for service,” she said. “There wasn’t a waiting line. And when they come home to the United States of America, there should never be a waiting line in this country.”

This is great stuff, especially in an election year, but it falls flat on my ears.

This isn’t a political issue; it doesn’t matter if the speaker has a ‘D’, an ‘R’, or an ‘I’ after their name. It doesn’t matter what circle we fill in or what lever we pull when we’re in the ballot booth. It doesn’t matter what talk radio shock jock we listen to and get our information from. This is a matter of humanity.

Forget the fact that the wars we create, support and encourage work against anything humane, and put aside your personal philosophies on war, this is a matter of people taking care of other people. Americans – fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors – volunteered to put their lives on hold – and at risk – to do a job that would make the country, and every one of us living here, safer, and we have an obligation to take care of them. I’m not talking about lip service like putting a “Thank a Vet” bumper sticker on your car, or flying a flag from your garage, I’m talking about taking care of the physical and emotional health of a returning vet, treating them as if they were someone important to us, and making that care available when they need it and for as long as they need it.

While it was nice listening to Senators Klobuchar and Franken say the right things yesterday, it meant nothing to me because I couldn’t help but remember Jonathan Schulze, a Lance Corporal in the Marines from New Prague, Minnesota. I’m guessing that not many people outside of Schulze’s family and friends and those he served alongside remember him and that’s probably because he’s been dead for about seven and a half years now. On January 16, 2007, Jonathan Schulze, a combat-wounded veteran with two Purple Hearts and only 25-years-old, killed himself.

Knowing he was having difficulties, Schulze had gone to the VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota on January 11th. He told a staff member he wasn’t doing well and that he was thinking of killing himself. He was told he couldn’t be admitted to the hospital and to go home. The next day he spoke by phone to a counselor at the hospital and was told he was on a waiting list for hospital admission. He was number 26. Four terror-filled days later, on the evening of January 16th, Schulze told family and friends that he was preparing to kill himself. The police were called but by the time they arrived and smashed in the door to his home, they were too late. They found Schulze, alone and finally at peace, hanging by the neck from an electrical cord.

In 2001 Jonathan Schulze said that he would risk his life to keep ours free. What he experienced during his time in combat was so horrific that he couldn’t handle it alone anymore and when he came to us for help, we said no. Telling him no, we can’t help you, you’re on your own, is how we thanked him for his service and for keeping us safe. So that’s why Senators Klobuchar and Franken’s words yesterday fell flat for me. Talk all day about having an investigation on VA wait times, that’s great, but where were the political speeches at Lance Corporal Schulze’s funeral? Where was the outrage over VA wait times back in 2007 when Jim and Marianne Schulze buried their son because we couldn’t open a door to him and say, “How can I help you?”

The bottom line is that if we can’t take care of our military heroes then we have no business sending them off to war. And as long as we decide we can’t live peacefully with the rest of the world then we have an obligation to care for these people who make the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Help here:

Maybe there’s a chance that someone who knew Jonathan Schulze will read this and let his family know that there’s still at least one person out there who remembers their son and his sacrifice and is thankful for his service.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 27, 2014 2:25 pm



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