began the Vet Support Group meetings by opening up the floor to
questions. If I didn’t know the answers, I would research them
before the next meeting. In October of 2002, I asked these vets
if their service had ever been recognized on Veterans Day. They
answered unanimously that it had not. I promised them that this
year would be different.
The plan was to create
Certificates of Appreciation in recognition of service to this
nation. I had a roster of about 15 names, and with the help of
our computer lab facilitator, we printed out classy-looking
certificates for each vet. The prison volunteer, who helped
arrange everything, promised that refreshments would be provided
by the prison. Due to scheduling problems, we couldn’t perform
the ceremony on November 11th, Veterans Day, but President Bush
had mandated the entire week as Veterans Appreciation Week, and
so we settled on Thursday, November 14th. Assisting in our
program for homeless vets is a recently discharged U.S. Marine
Corps vet, part of a work/study program funded by the VA. I
asked this young man if he would wear his dress blues and
present the certificates. He readily agreed to do so. I felt it
symbolic that the young warrior honor his predecessors in this
Veterans…Who Are They Really?
So who are these men who have
made a mistake in their life journey and are now paying the
price? One of them is a World War II U.S. Marine who fought at
Iwo Jima. Another is the recipient of three Presidential Unit
Citations for his service in Korea and Vietnam. Two are confined
to wheelchairs. All served, and all needed to be recognized for
they were. I would call out a name, and the young Marine intern
would present a Certificate of Appreciation. The reactions
varied from a strong sense of pride to fighting back the tears.
Much to my surprise, assistants of the warden arrived to add
their appreciation as well.
the young Marine intern and I were invited into the warden’s
office. On his wall, in frames, were two Purple Heart medals
from his service in Vietnam. We spoke about the support group
program, recognizing incarcerated vets, and he gave us his full
support in continuing the program.
Today, I think about when we
began the Veteran Support Group. There was a kind of invisible
line between the veterans and me. From that place, we evolved to
handshakes at the conclusion of each meeting. Today, there are
warm hugs that greet us each visit. But that’s the way it is,
working with vets. You have to earn their trust and build
The recognition at Terminal
Island created a lasting bond with these men. They now know that
in spite of whatever the mistake that brought them to Terminal
Island, their sacrifice and service have not been forgotten and
they haven’t been left behind the wire.
can only hope that every veteran, wherever they are, and
whatever they are enduring, is remembered, appreciated, and
recognized for their roles in assuring America’s freedom. It
doesn’t take a whole lot to say thanks, and welcome home.
Davison serves homeless and incarcerated veterans through a
non-profit, community-based organization in southern California,
and served with the U.S. Air Force as a radio intercept officer
in the Far East.