Dennis Daugaard, then Gene Murphy
HURON — With Gov. Dennis Daugaard just off to his right and dozens of South Dakota veterans in the audience in front of him, Gene Murphy couldn’t resist a little lobbying when it was his turn at the microphone on the first day of the State Fair.
The Sioux Falls resident and White native had just been presented with the prestigious Chester Sorenson Veteran of the Year plaque for decades of service in helping improve the lives of the men and women who have worn the nation’s uniform.
It was Veterans Day at the fair on Thursday, an opportunity to salute all who have served.
“It wasn’t really I. It was we,” Murphy, paralyzed since he was wounded in the jungles of Vietnam in April 1969, said of his work on behalf of veterans across South Dakota and the country. “We’ve got a lot more to do. We’ve got to work together.”
But he also turned to the governor on the stage, and to Lt. Gov. Matt Michels in the audience, to thank them for the new veterans home in Hot Springs. Now the state needs to build one east of the Missouri River, he said to applause and cheers.
It’s the kind of work Murphy has done to benefit others since leaving several hospitals and a 14-month recovery from suffering gunshot wounds — 30 days before his rotation home — that paralyzed him for life. In the days since, he has spent his time looking around at what disabled veterans like himself need.
He also rose through the ranks to eventually serve as national commander of the Disabled American Veterans organization.
It’s veterans like Murphy who have brought the gift of freedom to so many countries around the world, Daugaard said.
In 1913, there were 1.6 billion people on the planet, but only 15 percent lived in freedom, he said. A century later, there are 6.7 billion people and 65 percent enjoy freedom.
It happened because of the efforts of American soldiers and airmen, he said. While some might say the automobile, airplane, television or computer have been the greatest accomplishments in that time, he disagrees.
“But, really, in my mind, the greatest accomplishment of the last 100 years has been the increase in freedom throughout this world,” Daugaard said.
“And it was primarily caused by the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America — you,” he said.
Larry Zimmerman, the first secretary of the new state Department of Veterans Affairs, said veterans and their families should be honored for their service and sacrifice.
“You have served along with those folks, and we appreciate that,” he said to the family members of soldiers past and present. “You stood up and when they raised their right hand you were beside them and you followed them through their careers.”
It is the nation’s veterans who are the true heroes in America, Zimmerman said.
“Today we celebrate humble men and women who understand the call of duty, the meaning of honor and the values of this nation,” he said.
“They did not serve for glory and fame, they served to preserve our way of life that we’re sitting here today and celebrating,” he said. “For this, we honor them today.”
Zimmerman heads a staff of more than 20 who provide the resources to guide veterans through complicated federal benefit programs, such as the GI Bill that was enacted in 1944 to help returning World War II service men and women and is still in place today.
But there’s also tuition assistance, housing, stipends for students, health care, pensions and other programs.
In addition, there are more than 63 county and tribal veterans service officers and more than 20 veterans service organization, as well as veterans clubs at the universities and technical schools.
Last year, South Dakota veterans received benefits totaling more than $489 million, he said.
“We are a business,” Zimmerman said. “We are a generation of revenue.”
Daugaard choked up briefly when he described his carefree high school days playing football and singing in the choir while at the same time men like Murphy were slogging through the dangerous jungles of Vietnam and facing enemy gunfire.
But because generations of Americans have heeded that call to duty, millions enjoy the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and the press, the governor said.
“Today is Veterans Day at the State Fair to honor veterans,” he said. “And we rededicate ourselves to honor and remember always, and thank them, not just today, but every day.”
Added Zimmerman, a 29-year veteran of the South Dakota National Guard: “A sincere thank you means more to most veterans than any other reward. We owe them that.”
For the complete article see the 08-30-2013 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 08-30-2013 paper.