“To care for him who shall have borne the battle”

150th anniversary of President Lincoln's second Inaugural address


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I first came to VA’s central office 22 years ago to interview for an opening in the public affairs office. I was tense and nervous, as it was yet another of many interviews in a five-month-long job search.

Then, as if it was meant to happen, as I walked in front of VA headquarters, President Lincoln gave me the boost I needed.

Lincoln Quote at VARight there on the front of the building at eye level was our 16th president’s famous charge to all Americans – “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Even then, I marveled at the fact that in 1865 President Lincoln wrote one of the shortest and most perfect mission statements in history, for a federal agency that would not begin to exist until 65 years later.

During that job interview, I spent a good amount to time selling my skills as a journalist and media specialist, but Lincoln’s 17 words resonated when I began to talk about my desire to serve our nation’s defenders.

No employees have a mission more important or righteous than we at VA.

A note on Lincoln’s magnificent words in his second inaugural address that we herald on this anniversary of their first reading:

Many scholars consider the speech his greatest, even with its somber, sad tone. He blamed neither side nor reveled in the forthcoming Union victory. Slavery was the cause, he clearly said and his fears were provident that the scourge would leave lasting wounds. He was conciliatory to the South, setting the stage for what he hoped to be a meaningful reconstruction period. He even mused eloquently on the issue of Divine Providence.

All that in four paragraphs and less than 700 words. And, no, there were no speechwriters then.

Lincoln was assassinated five weeks after he delivered the speech. Still, he is more alive than ever for me and, I’m sure, for millions of Americans who still benefit from his contributions to both our nation and our humanity.

On this 150th anniversary of that inaugural address, we present this tribute to President Lincoln, his words and the mission we serve each day.

Author

Ken McKinnon

Ken McKinnon is the video team leader on VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. He has a 45-year career in journalism and government service, 13 years with Florida newspapers, 10 as a press and communications director on Capitol Hill, and 22 with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. He is the proud son of a career Marine Master Sergeant who served in World War II and the Korean War.

Comments

  1. Richard Bruce Scott Brown    

    That was a great and touching tribute. I chose to believe that that is how you truly feel. Sadly that make a small deference in the VA Healthcare system, and the government’s concern with vets. I repeatedly when to and trough the VA seeking help with wartime issues that float around in my head. I got nothing but brick walls. I’ve filled a claim (for PTSD) twice,(as prompted by the VA in order to receive service), and both times my claim has somehow gotten lost. Finally just short of 20 years since combat, they scheduled me too speek to a doctor. When I went in, the doctor want there, but her intern was, and saw me instead, claiming she was just interviewing me for info for the doctor. Then the intern scheduled me for a 4 hour computer Q&A test, that asked the same questions 100 different ways, but only gave the option of yes or no answers, and no questions that applied to why I was there to begin with. I think they called it a litman test. After all of the battling I had done just to get that far, it was an incredible insult that my result was an intern, and sitting in front of a computer for 4 hours. The VA then said that based on my test, and my sit down with the doctor, that I didn’t have PTSD. Despite what the shrink told me 2 weeks prior to my ETS from the army, and the shrink in jail at Alleghany Co jail. I took my complaint all the way to Terry Wolf (the director at the Highland park VA), that I had never spoken to the doctor, that I interviewed with her intern. She argued that it was in the computer that I had seen the doctor. (Long story short), I battled this issue for awhile with her until she scheduled another visit with the doctor. Finally I meet with this nervous young black haired girl that couldn’t be older than 23 or 24, who simply told me she backs up her interns decision derived from my interview, and the computer test that claims I lied. She said my problems stem from issues with my ex step mother back when I was 13 years old, (I’m 44 now). I boiled and but my lip from what I wanted to say an do to her, and asked her what the test determined I lied about. She said she didn’t know, but that the test determined I lied. Since I had just gotten out of jail for a drinking violent charge, I decided it better to leave before I go back to jail.
    I went for the help, because everyone around me told me I have this PTSD thing, and need the help. So I battled. For nearly 20 years I battled the VA to get help. And that was the result. It is over 20 years ago last February, and I can still feel the shudder from detonating rounds, and the smell of gun powder, and the smell of burnt flesh, and the smell of burnt oil, and the sight of dismembered bodies, and the sight of Sgt Granger hamburger meat body, and Pfc Steele ‘ s blown up vehicle, and the anxiety when the allay round ricocheted off of our vehicle an arms length to my right as I rode air/small arms guard, and the fear, and the excitement, and the focus, and the conviction, and …….. My point is, your VA is a joke. In my experience it’s the biggest slap in my face. I receive a presidential citation for what we did in war. You can look it up. 1st phantom brigade, 1st Armored Division, 69th chemical company (Recon and Decon Platoons). And the VA can’t see their way to help me, and not only that, they called me a lier to my face. Oh they promote with many great words, but in my experience, those are JUST words intent to make the population believe that that is who they are. Their actions speak different. This is just my experience, and I wish better for all those others whom may be in the VA battle. As for me, having been homeless and climbed out of twice, in jail numerous times with drinking and violent chargers, and not holding down a solid job,or sold residence, it is depressing, but I understand how so many vets cash out behind that kind of support. I’m a fighter though, but for now I’m a bit beaten down, and angry, and tired of jumping through hoops. TO THOSE OF YOU THAT DO HELP THE VETS IN NEED, I TRULY THANK YOU. YOU ARE MY HERO’S. TRULY, THANK YOU.

  2. Dolly Coop    

    As much as I appreciate President Lincoln’s words, I wish someday we could update it with the times. Not all veterans are “him” … some of us are actually “her”. Although VA has made inroads into treating female vets, a lot of room for improvement remains.

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