LORAIN — General Johnnie Wilson clearly remembers the day, years ago, when he missed his doctor’s appointment. It was the day he met a young soldier at the hospital who lost his legs and an arm in war.
However, it wasn’t what the boy lacked that surprised the general, but what he asked next.
“(Soldiers’) concerns have always been ‘I left my buddies on the battlefield’,” Wilson said at a speech Saturday, remembering how the young soldier was more worried about his friends who were still in war, than he was about his own wounds.
The story made an impact on a room of Lorain County veterans and echoed the larger message of the evening: supporting veterans.
“Every time we call on you veterans, you show up,” Wilson said Saturday, inciting a laugh from the crowd.
He wasn’t wrong. More than 200 veterans, spouses and supporters convened to celebrate the Veteran of the Year, Arthur Goodman. He received the 2014 award at a ceremony at the Italian American Veterans Post on Oberlin Avenue as a “symbol of unselfish service.”
“You’ve given me the opportunity to keep the post alive,” Goodman said to the crowd.
Goodman’s speech was preceded by talks from Wilson, other Lorain County veterans and Matthew Slater, director of Veterans Services of Family and Community Services Inc., all of whom discussed the support inherent in the veteran community.
“Homelessness among veterans … we need to do something about it,” said Slater, calling on Lorain County veterans to continue their aid to homeless veterans in Lorain County.
Slater, who is working with veterans in his organization to renovate a building to house homeless Lorain veterans, said many veterans return from war and struggle finding a place to live.
“When they come home, we expect them to be civilians,” Slater said, adding that many veterans find it hard to work a “normal” job after war, especially when suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“Many veterans have to persevere through a lot,” he said.
The one beacon of hope and support? Other veterans, Slater said.
“Veterans posts stepped up,” he said, explaining that an advisory council of Lorain County veterans works with Slater’s organization to find homes for veterans and get many homeless veterans off of the streets.
“(They) help us understand what the true cost of war is,” Slater said of the council.
No one knows the struggles of veterans newly out of war more than Sobering Center President Alan Revercomb.
After serving in the Marine Corps in the late 1960s, Revercomb had a difficult time falling into a normal life. He struggled with drug abuse and was arrested multiple times in the years after his service. When he finally started working again and became sober, he had a different outlook on the everyday struggles of veterans.
“These are guys that are broken,” Revercomb said. “We bring them into our homes and make sure they’re cleaned up.”
Revercomb’s work with veterans at the Sobering Center mirrored the support seen by other veterans at Saturday night’s event in the packed cafeteria.
“We refuse to led our comrades fall down and stay down,” the Rev. Ernest Battle said in an opening prayer on Saturday. According to Slater, Revercomb and many veterans at Saturday’s ceremony, he was right.