Credit: Don Pollard

On October 2, former NYC Mayor Edward I. Koch (now of bridge fame) spoke at the opening reception for WWII & NYC.  Having served in WWII, he recounted his memories of the war, and reminded the audience of the great, shared sacrifice thousands of Americans made. Below is his speech.

I was 19 when I was drafted into the US Army in 1943. After 17 weeks of basic training, I was assigned to the 104th Infantry Division and sent to Europe, where I fought in the battles of Northern France and the Rhineland, receiving two battle stars and the combat infantry badge. I was honorably discharged n 1946 with the rant of Sergeant.

World War II changed this country in a very dramatic was as a result of the G.I. Bill, which allowed the returning veterans to go to college at government expense. The G.I. Bill had many provisions affecting the returning veterans, providing unemployment insurance, the so-called 52-20 club: $20 a week for 52 weeks, cheap mortgages which caused Levittowns to sprout up all across the nation, opening suburbia. But the most important benefit, I believe, was the college tuition.

I don’t know what returning veterans receive today, except that the benefits are much less generous. Those benefits should be even greater because the US soldiers of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were and are subject to far greater suffering than we of World War II. The thousands who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were, on balance, far more grievously injured. Because our medical knowledge and ability to save lives is so much greater today, many who would have died from the same injuries in World War II live today with significantly greater permanent infirmities.

Regrettably, over the years, we have had too many scandals in the veterans’ benefits agencies, impacting on their care.

My plea, and I believe it is the plea of most Americans, is that we make sure that when we cut government funding to balance our budget each year, we never do so at the expense of the care—medical and otherwise—provided our returning veterans.