Nine days ago at an election eve rally at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, a Vietnam veteran, tears welling in his eyes, wildly shouted his support for Senator Barack Obama.
Two fellow vets helped him to his feet to join in a raucous standing ovation for Obama. That Vietnam veteran, Noah Coakley of Key West, FL, is a man of dignity and reserve, a man who served his country for 20 years in the U.S. Army, including five tours of duty in Vietnam.
Noah Coakley is a veteran passionately supporting Barack Obama for president.
Across the country, this scene is repeated. Veterans in enormous numbers, with passion and fervor and commitment are turning out in support of Barack Obama.
Vietnam veterans are printing literature, "slim jims," at their expense, highlighting Barack Obama's support of veterans. An Iraq war vet, a merchant marine, and the daughter of a Vietnam vet are reaching into their pockets to buy "Veterans for Obama" signs.
Republican veterans -- from a 30-plus year career Marine in Beaufort, South Carolina, to a lifelong Republican who served three Republican presidents in the White House and the Pentagon - are turning out for Barack Obama, urging fellow veterans to support and vote for him. Retired Marine Corps Command Sergeant Major John L. Estrada, only the 15th Command Sergeant Major in the history of the Corps, has gone on the campaign trail and joined the chorus of veteran voices actively, passionately supporting Barack Obama.
From flag rank officers to grunts, veterans of every era and rank are turning out for Barack Obama.
Why? Where is this passion and commitment for a non-veteran coming from?
The answer is simple. It is because Barack Obama, the grandson of a World War II vet who fought in Patton's army, is passionate and committed to the issues that affect veterans and their families.
Senator Obama, when he arrived in Washington, volunteered for the all important, but not very glamorous, Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs. In the wake of the housing and medical evaluation scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Obama introduced a sweeping bill, called the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, calling for comprehensive reforms in how our combat veterans and their families are treated.
Vets support Obama because he will fully fund the VA healthcare budget, will bring Priority 8 vets back into the VA healthcare system, will expand the GI Bill to allow spouses and children to be eligible to use veteran benefits and will treat Guardsmen and Reservists equally, and he will comprehensively address the pain and devastation brought onto vets by PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
And of critical importance, Barack Obama has pledged a "zero tolerance" policy to end veteran homelessness. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans noted in Congressional testimony that "We extend our deep gratitude to Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) for catapulting homeless veteran issues onto the Senate agenda ...."
It is for all these reasons that veterans support Barack Obama for president. But mostly America's veterans support Barack Obama because his support of veterans and their families is passionate and unqualified.
And yet while we are veterans, we are Americans first. We see in Barack Obama a transformational candidate; we see, not a politician who wants to be president, but a man who wants to change our country.
Senator Obama embodies the bold, fresh, innovative, outside-the-Beltway thinking that we, as Americans, desperately need. He possesses the leadership and passion, the vision and thoughtfulness, the wisdom to unite our divided country, to re-establish our friendships around the world, to restore our standing as the greatest, most generous, caring, freest nation in history.
Barack Obama, beginning on day one of his presidency, will restore the greatness and promise of America.