Hire a Veteran: A personal story from our president
Hire a Veteran:
By Tom Bierbaum
A recent survey conducted by the bi-partisan polling teams of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Research Strategies found that many Americans believe veterans are damaged and unready to lead. The same survey states that Americans believe veterans are not well educated or well suited for today’s workplace. These are misconceptions I believe we must change.
I know from personal experience the challenges veterans face in adjusting to civilian life through the story of my father, Cleo Bierbaum. Two weeks after his 20th birthday, he sat in the hold of a ship off the coast of French West Africa. It was Nov. 8, 1942. The 34th Infantry was about to see the first combat by American soldiers in the European Theatre during World War II.
My father joined the National Guard at 16 by lying about his age. He joined for the money – $1 per day. Training consisted of bayonet drills against the football goal posts and “skirmishes” in the town square, where platoons practiced out-flanking the Red Oak, Iowa, Civil War monument.
My father was awarded a football scholarship to Iowa State University in 1941. But the Iowa and Minnesota National Guards were among the first to be pressed into service to make up the 34th Infantry. He completed fewer than one semester at Iowa State.
After 22 months of preparation, these young soldiers were sent into battle in North Africa. After seven months of combat, he was taken prisoner by the Germans, along with his older brother Harlan. They got a free tour of Europe from the inside a boxcar.
Dad spent several months as a prisoner of war in Poland before being moved to Berlin, where he spent the rest of the war. By the time the war was over, he had been held captive for 27 months until he was liberated in the spring of 1945.
My father enrolled in the 1946 freshman class at Iowa State. He was 24, poorly prepared for academic study, and he struggled to adjust to college. He quit and went looking for a job.
He found work pressing clothes in a dry-cleaning shop. At a local dance, he met my mother, fell in love and got married. He caught a break when he was offered a job in Hamilton, Ill., by a retiring dry-cleaner willing to take him under his wing. He eventually bought the business and over the next 25 years built a life around the small business on the banks of the Mississippi.
Before he died in 1977, Cleo Bierbaum had seen all of his sons attend college. That was his goal: for us to have a better life than he had known.
My father didn’t succeed in building his business because of his ability to press clothing. He succeeded through an uncanny ability to sustain a personal discipline. He brought this from his military experience along with a passion to reach out to others and engage all aspects of his community. Those are fundamentals inherent in our veterans today.
We have seen 2.5 million men and women come through the ranks of the military since Sept. 11, 2001. Today, there are one million unemployed veterans in the country. They are navigating their way through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Much like the post-World War II boom, when returning troops helped shore up the nation’s economy, today’s veterans can play a vital role in contributing to an economic recovery.
According to that same survey, most Americans feel that our veterans are a valuable asset, but they believe the majority of them suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The true number is closer to 20 percent – and PTSD is a treatable condition.
The heroic qualities of human character that come from our veterans are the substance of all that has always been exceptional about America. Our veterans deserve an abundance of opportunity in order to make their lives more meaningful and to envision a better future for those they love.