By Ellen Golombek
Before he served in Congress and before he went to the White House, Lt. John F. Kennedy commanded torpedo boats in the South Pacific during World War II. His distinguished military career resulted in being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart. He was proud of his service and once said, “I can imagine no more rewarding a career.”
The president must have given thought to his own years in combat when, on Nov. 5, 1963, he issued a proclamation for Thanksgiving, a holiday he would not live to see. In the proclamation, he wrote in part of the nation’s gratitude to America’s veterans.
“Much time has passed since President Washington led a young people into the experience of nationhood, much time since President Lincoln saw the American nation through the ordeal of fraternal war,” he wrote. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Those words ring just as true today as they did 50 years ago — perhaps even more so. It goes without saying that we should thank veterans for their service, that we should recognize their important contributions to our freedom and honor those who made the supreme sacrifice. But, as President Kennedy stressed, “the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
The highest appreciation Coloradans can show is to ensure that veterans’ homecoming will signal the start of an important next chapter in their lives. For young veterans in particular, that begins with a good job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-9/11 veterans have an unemployment rate of 10.1 percent, nearly 3 percent higher than the national average, and among this group the unemployment rate for women veterans is even higher.
At the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and at state- and county-run Workforce Centers, we take pride in assisting veterans year-round, ensuring they have the preparation and readiness to make a successful transition into the civilian workforce. We are a conduit to employment and training, but the real heroes are the employers who give them a chance to show what they can do.
These employers know that veterans have the proven ability to learn new skills and concepts, that they have an understanding of how teamwork grows out of a responsibility to one’s colleagues. The best employers recognize that military duties have taught veterans to understand the rigors of tight schedules and limited resources. They know that these new hires can grasp their place within an organizational framework and are committed to doing “an honest day’s work.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper has issued a proclamation declaring November as Hire A Veteran Month. The proclamation underscores what great employers already know: The economic returns to our state in getting these talented men and women into good-paying jobs are critical to Colorado’s competitiveness. The investment we make in helping veterans make the transition from the battlefield to the business world will pay all of us dividends throughout the century.
To every business that knows the value of helping veterans succeed, the Department of Labor and Employment says, “Thank you.” Our work on behalf of veterans (we are currently serving more than 44,000) draws its strength from you. Your investment in your community, and in the veterans who are a part of it, gets to the heart of what President Kennedy spoke of just 23 days before his death. Gratitude must be more than words. It must be lived.
Ellen Golombek is the executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.