Sept. 23, 2020, has to be one of the most memorable days of my life. It ranks right up there with Feb. 3, 1970, when I and a cheering group of fellow veterans took off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base and watched the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam shrink below us.
With the recent ceremony at the Solon Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall headed by retired Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services, I join a select group of fellow veterans in what she called an “elite crowd.” Via video, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine honored this year’s 20 inductees to the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, which recognizes post-military service.
Following the leadership of Gov. DeWine during this challenging time, the 2020 inductions were held individually around Ohio, instead of with a big event in Columbus. Each ceremony was limited to 10 attendees. Masks were required, with the exception of my brief acceptance speech.
Of course, masks are required at all such gatherings in Ohio as good citizens fight for freedom from the deadly ravages of COVID-19 – except for those who know nothing about sacrifice and care little about actual freedom. Just two days prior to my induction ceremony, during a campaign rally for President Donald J. Trump in Dayton, Gov. DeWine was booed by many in the largely mask-rejecting crowd for his efforts against the pandemic.
For this son of a World War II veteran who suffered lifelong pain and eventual amputation of the damaged leg he brought home from the frigid battlefields of France and Germany, it is beyond belief that certain Americans claim mask wearing is an infringement on their freedom. For this baby boomer who faced the military draft and was sent to Vietnam, where political leaders claimed we were fighting for freedom, it is beyond belief to see fellow Americans whine like infants about social distancing to forestall the spread of a killer virus.
Freedom of the Press and the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the lies being told to the American people about the Vietnam War by the highest echelons of government, convinced me to become a journalist. In addition to more than 58,000 Americans in the military, 63 journalists died in Vietnam in pursuit of the truth.
I believe my work as a journalist in telling the stories of fellow veterans, who know all about sacrificing for freedom, played a significant role in my induction to the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.
I will never forget H. Gaither Perry of Russell whose “fighting weight” dwindled to 112 pounds before he made a daring escape from a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. I’ll always remember Fritz Neubauer, the great Geauga County outdoorsman, who valiantly fought the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II.
My heart still goes out to the family of former Orange Village Police Chief and Marine Corps Vietnam veteran Louis E. Westerburg, who fought the government over his little daughter’s Agent Orange-induced birth defects in 1982 and then died from his exposure to that dioxin-laced defoliant 10 years later. I value the friendship of Jim Boyd of Auburn who has courageously battled post-traumatic stress ever since he returned from the bloody jungles of Vietnam so many years ago.
That’s what it’s like to sacrifice for freedom.
But wearing a mask and maintaining social distance in this pandemic is too much to ask? Give me a break!
To my fellow journalists, keep fighting for freedom. Keep exposing the lies that are being told to the American people by the highest echelons of government. We need you now as ever.
Mr. Lange is the retired editor of the Times.