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Sunday Forum: Giving Thanks Where It’s Due; the Wilderness Act Turns 50; What Makes a Church; Jim Brady Remembered

Much Service to Be Thankful For

To the Editor:

People frequently say, “Thank you for your service” to members of the military and to veterans. When this is said to me, I acknowledge it but feel that little is owed me.

In 1963, I, and all men aged 18 had to fulfill a “military obligation.” The choices were: enlist or risk being drafted. I joined the Army Security Agency. This meant four years of service versus two as a draftee, but offered educational and technical training. We all risked being sent to Vietnam, and many were. When I left the service, there were nearly half a million American troops there. By the end of the war, more than 58,000, some I served with, had died there. Many who returned alive were never the same people who had left home.

So, when I acknowledge folks who say, “thank you,” I accept, as one of the lucky ones who came home unscathed. The thanks is really owed to the fighters and the families of those who died then and are dying today. It is owed to the injured who face enormous daily challenges, and to the caregivers who help sustain them. Thank you for your service.

I also thank Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for “walking the walk” as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He advocated help for, as well as reform at, the Department of Veterans Affairs, while others pointed fingers and postured. He understands the task faced by the VA in serving the complex physical and mental health needs of the flood of casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to those of increasing numbers of aging World War II, Korean war and Vietnam war veterans. He worked constructively with Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Miller, his counterpart in the House, on recent legislation to fund additional doctors, staff and clinics to improve access to care. He joins vets and vet organizations in saying this is a starting point and much more is needed. For this I also say, Senator Sanders, thank you for your service.

Ralph Patalano

Plainfield

Wilderness Act’s 50th Anniversary

To the Editor:

During 2014, Americans are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, by which Congress created a new, higher level of protection for our nation’s federal public lands. Wilderness is vital habitat for wildlife as well as a retreat and refuge for the public. Since 1964, Congress has assigned wilderness protection status to 109 million acres in 44 states. Vermont has eight wilderness areas, totaling 101,019 acres; New Hampshire has five wilderness areas, totaling138,618 acres. Four federal agencies and 55 national and regional organizations are celebrating the 50th anniversary, including the local chapter of the Sierra Club and the U.S. Forest Service. Celebrations include local wilderness hikes and photographic exhibits of Vermont and New Hampshire wilderness areas.

Participating exhibitors of wilderness photos have included the Vermont Institute of Natural Science; the Hartland Library; the U.S. Forest Service, Rutland; and the Dunbar Free Library, Grantham. The Howe Library, Hanover, and the Kilton and Lebanon libraries will host photos in August and September. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center will feature the photos in October and November.

For more information about Vermont and New Hampshire wilderness hikes and other related 50th anniversary events, contact the Upper Valley Sierra Club’s Denis Rydjeski at DRR@Dartmouth.edu or see www.uppervalleysierraclub.org.

Barbara Duncan

Upper Valley Sierra Club Executive Committee Member

Fairlee

Spirit Is Missing From Church

To the Editor:

We moved into the Dorchester Historic District in 1988 and lived here full-time for eight years before becoming “snow-birds” who are here for half the year.

We look out our windows onto the classic New England Town Common: church, red schoolhouse, and Town Hall (formerly the Grange). The schoolhouse has not been in use as one since sometime in the 1950s, we understand — it stands now, recently refurbished, as a beautiful historic artifact and museum. The Town Hall functions as the meeting place for town government, social functions, receptions, entertainment, etc.

The church . . . stands. It, too, now appears to be an artifact, a beautiful example of 19th century New England architecture, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly, it was the site of worship by the devout.

What is a church? As two pieces in the Valley News have now pointed out, the Dorchester Selectboard, as part of a townwide property re-assessment, has been led to question this.

The church is privately owned, with no formal affiliation to a religious organization: It has no pastor and holds a couple of services a year, attended by perhaps a dozen people.

At the July 24 Selectboard meeting, Mr. Decato, the lawyer for the trustees who are the owners of the church (Pat Franz and Grace Fraser), gestured toward the building, saying “You see it has a pulpit, a Bible, pews! Thus it is a church!”

Older townspeople remember relatives married there, funerals performed, singing and prayers — it is a place of memory and nostalgia.

But, more than this memory, besides the lath and plaster and pulpit, what is a church? Where are those who worship and perform good works (feed the hungry, visit the sick and infirm, educate the young in tolerance and faith, offer comfort and counsel)? Where is the spirit?

Robert Pon and Katherine Scanlon-Pon

Dorchester

In Praise of Jim Brady

To the Editor:

James Brady dedicated much of his life to common-sense gun reforms after a would-be presidential assassin crippled him with a bullet (“Reagan Press Secretary, Gun-Control Advocate James Brady Dies,” Aug. 5). All of Jim’s valiant efforts deserve our praise, especially Brady background checks, which have stopped more than 2 million illegal gun purchases.

Twenty years ago I was fortunate to spend a weekend with Jim Brady in Chicago, where he gave the keynote address at an event I chaired, the annual Walk Against Gun Violence. His eloquence stirred everyone there, but even more stirring was witnessing Jim the day before throwing out the first pitch at a Cubs game. At the moment of truth on the mound, Jim struggled with the task, but when we all realized he was fighting to rise up out of his wheelchair to stand and perform the honors with the appropriate grace, everyone cheered a real American hero.

Jim Brady was truly a stand-up guy. Many thanks, old friend. God bless you.

Bob Williamson

South Woodstock