by James Glaser
I had a good friend die this weekend. Senator Paul Wellstone, while not a close personal friend, was a very good friend to all Veterans. Senator Wellstone made Veteran Health Care an integral part of his entire Senate career. Senator Wellstone was not out to help just Minnesota Veterans, but every veteran that has served America.
I first met Paul Wellstone in the early 1980s when he was a college political science professor and in his spare time, an avowed anti-nuclear activist. I picked him up at the International Falls Airport early one winter afternoon and spent the next three hours talking to him about war, Vietnam, and just how sick atomic weapons were.
That night at the Union Hall, Paul Wellstone gave a talk on Weapons of Mass Destruction that explained to everyone there why we have to stop the insanity of their use. As an illustration Paul took one coffee can filled with 6800 little steel shot, that represented the amount of atomic weapons that we had in our arsenal and while everyone closed their eyes, he slowly poured the shot from one can to another.
Wellstone had done this many times before and had it down. That coffee can was real close to the mike and his pour was very controlled as each shot hitting that other can could be heard and it seemed to go on forever. Really a fine demonstration of just how many of these weapons we had.
The then Professor Wellstone gave a speech about the military build up in America and how wars were not the answer. He started his talk real slow and quiet, but by the time he was done he was jumping up and down and yelling at that crowd, who were on their feet also. The place rang with applause when Paul Wellstone was finished. Many in that Hall said that "he ought to go into politics" and a decade later he did.
Many people always thought of Senator Wellstone as anti-war and he was, but he certainly was not anti-veteran. Over the years more and more veterans learned just how hard this anti-war Senator fought for them. Constantly Wellstone was badgering those supposed military hawks in Washington, to give Veterans what was due to them.
It came slow, but Veteran groups started to respect this Senator from Minnesota. In 1995, both the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Minnesota Paralyzed Veterans of America honored Senator Wellstone. The VVA gave Wellstone the "Legislator of the Year" Award and he told me that he was very proud of that.
Later on Senator Wellstone received Awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, American Ex-P.O.W.s, Amvets, Military Order of the Purple Heart, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, and the Forgotten 216th.
Not one of these organizations gives out their award lightly and to give such awards as these, to a man openly and actively seeking to stop war, made these awards all the more special. Veterans like to honor veterans, Senator Wellstone was not a Veteran and fought hard to stop the Vietnam War. These organizations came to see that even though they disagreed with Wellstone on the value of war, they both agreed on the value of the service rendered to our nation by veterans and both agreed on the Nation's debt, owed to these men and women.
This last Friday, Senator Wellstone, his Wife and Daughter along with three campaign aids and two pilots died in a plane crash in Northern Minnesota. Senator Wellstone was my friend and a friend that all Veterans had, even if they didn't know it. In the years to come many future veterans will have Senator Wellstone to thank for some of the treatment they receive at veteran Hospitals.
A few years ago I was in the VA Hospital in Minneapolis and Senator Wellstone was there one evening, going from ward to ward just talking to Vets. He had a couple hours to kill before a flight to Washington and came over to visit Veterans. That act told me a lot about that man.
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