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Veterans Appreciate President's Thanks

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2005 – President Bush's message of thanks was a pat on the back for the hundreds of veterans, both young and old, who packed the Capital Hilton here Jan. 20 for the American Legion's "Salute to Heroes" inaugural ball.

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Frederick Taylor, Jr., and his wife, Patty, traveled from New Port Richey, Fla., to attend the Commander in Chief's Ball in Washington, Jan. 20, part of the 2005 Inauguration Day festivities. Photo by Sgt 1st Class Doug Sample, USA

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The American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the Paralyzed Veterans of America were among several veterans service organizations that co- sponsored the event.

Frederick Taylor Jr., who served with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam and received three Purple Hearts, came from Florida to attend the ball. A past national commander of the Military Order of Purple Heart, he said that the "Saluting Our Heroes" theme shows that the "sacrifices that servicemen and women have made have really paid dividends, and it's a great honor to be here."

Ken Weas, one of several paralyzed veterans in attendance, traveled from Phoenix. He said the president's words on Inauguration Day were "very encouraging."

"He shows that our veterans are still loved and still needed," Weas explained. "I support the decisions that he'd made and the decisions he'll be making in the future of this country. He's supporting our military 100 percent and getting them what they need."

Jim Blaylock, a Marine Corps medical evacuation pilot who lost his right hand during combat in Vietnam, has met the president before. He attended the president's last inaugural. "Another occasion is always a grand occasion," he said. However, Blaylock, who works with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, called this latest inaugural a "real privilege" because "it's a part of history."

Among those cheering the loudest for the president when he appeared at the ball were two wounded Iraq war veterans, both of whom are recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.

Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Bain was with the 611th Quartermaster Company, a reserve unit out of Baltimore, when he was wounded by mortar fire.

"I think the president's words were right on," he said. "He's the commander in chief, and he leads by example. I'd follow him any time. He's my commander in chief, and I've got much respect for him."

Army Spc. Colton Akin, a medic serving with a forward support battalion of the 1st Infantry Division, reached down and pulled up his right pant leg, proudly showing off his wound -- a large piece of flesh is missing from right calf, also the result of a mortar attack.

"It's an absolute honor to be here. I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world," said Akin, who brought along his mother, Ivy. "To see my commander in chief 15 feet away from me, to see the entire (Joint Chiefs of Staff) right there, it's a feeling you can't quite describe."

Despite being deserving Purple Heart recipients themselves, Bain and Akin both felt the president's gratitude should be reserved for the veterans of past wars.

"This is for them," Bain said. "Just to be in the same room with them is an honor. It's what these guys have done -- that's why we are free."

Added Akin: "To see Medal of Honor recipients, the Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, Silver Star -- it's such as honor to see all these people. When we came back from Iraq, everyone said, 'Aw, you're such a hero.' We're not the heroes; it's the ones who came before us that are the heroes."

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Related Sites:
The American Legion
Military Order of the Purple Heart
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Related Articles:
President Thanks Veterans for Service During Inaugural Ball

Click photo for screen-resolution imageJim Blaylock of Atlanta, who lost his right hand while serving in Vietnam as a Marine medical evacuation pilot, said attending 2005 inauguration festivities is a "real privilege" because "it's a part of history." Blaylock attended the Commander in Chief's Ball in Washington on Jan. 20. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA  
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