By PAMELA CODY
Special to the PRESS
Like many Americans, whenever I see a soldier in uniform, I thank them for their service to our country. I make a point of doing the same on national holidays that celebrate those who served, such as Memorial Day, the anniversary of 9/11, and Veteran’s Day.
There is a man I have known my whole life named Robert Hardy who served in the U.S. Army more than 50 years ago, and I always remember to thank him for his service on these special holidays. For the first time this year, however, when I spoke to him this past Memorial Day, he hesitated, then said, “Well, I appreciate that, but technically I’m not considered a veteran. Confused, I asked him to explain his comment, and this is his story.
Robert Henry Hardy, Jr. enlisted in the Army in November 1955. He was 23 years old and hailed from Murphysboro, a small town in southern Illinois. He served his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, from November 1955 to January 1956, and was selected by his superiors as Outstanding Trainee in the 253rd Field Artillery Battalion. For this citation, he received a sterling silver bracelet as an award, engraved with his name on the front, and on the back, the inscription reads “For Military Proficiency.”
From there, Hardy was assigned for further training and was sent to Army Intelligence School at Fort Holibird in Baltimore, Md. That training resulted in his graduating in June 1956 as an aerial photo interpreter. Hardy was then assigned overseas to West Germany in June 1956, serving as an Army intelligence specialist in the G-2 Air Section, 7th Corps Headquarters. His duties included updating aerial photo collections and making photo maps of West Germany and the Iron Curtain Territories.
Shortly after arriving in Germany, the tennis coach of the 7th Corps, Col. Edson Raff, noted on Hardy’s intake form that he’d played tennis in college, and had Hardy assigned to the Special Services 7th Corps Tennis Team. He played on the team from June 1956 to July 1957; the team earned 2nd place in the 7th Corps tournament, with Hardy playing the No. 5 spot in singles and the No. 3 spot in doubles. Later that same summer, Hardy applied for early release in order to accept seasonal employment as a school teacher. His application was granted and Hardy was released three months early in August 1957 (instead of November 1957.) At the end of his active duty he received an honorable discharge. Private Hardy then spent two years in the active reserves in Murphysboro, Ill., and was promoted to corporal and then sergeant. He then served two more years in the inactive reserves.
This is the timeline of Sgt. Hardy’s service in the military, as told in an interview at his home on August 17, 2015. Hardy, who turned 83 on Sept. 11, tells the rest of his story.
Hardy recalls, “When I got out of the service, I was told that, because of a law enacted by Dwight Eisenhower, president at the time, I would not be eligible for veteran’s education, medical or insurance policy benefits. Apparently, Eisenhower felt that the G.I. Bill, which provided for these services, should come to an end.” (It was later reinstated under a different name). Hardy went on to say, “Because of this, I have been unable to receive treatment at a V.A. hospital and could not join an American Legion.” In a voice filled with emotion, he quietly added, “Although I’m a veteran who served and was discharged honorably, I’m not considered by the federal government to be a veteran of the armed forces.”
The only small benefit Hardy ever received was from the state of Illinois for a military scholarship for college tuition, which he used to obtain his master’s degree in health education from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. Referring to the title of this article, Hardy said servicemen in his predicament are known as ‘Eisenhower Veterans.’ He went on to explain, “There are a lot of service members in the same classification as me. We’re just trapped in that short window of time that denied service members benefits.”
Hardy said he has checked periodically over the years with the American Legion to see if anything has changed, and has always been told no. The only group he is allowed to be a member of is the Veterans of Foreign Wars. With the interview drawing to a close, Hardy was asked to describe how this situation makes him feel. These were his final comments.
“Let me put it this way. I enjoyed my military service. I went voluntarily and received excellent training that carried over into my civilian life, but I feel like the U.S. military and the U.S. government do not care about me in terms of being a veteran. I enlisted voluntarily, I served honorably, but I get no recognition for my service. It’s like I never served.”
After hearing this story, an extremely polite and helpful young woman, Jane Hill, who works in the Houston office of the VBA, said Hardy should make an inquiry at the VA office in his region, which would be in Chicago. Hill personally sent an e-mail to the director of that location in order to facilitate the beginning of a fresh inquiry into Hardy’s situation. A representative, Ms. Peace, did call Hardy, but the answer was the same. Though she was sympathetic to his situation, her reply was, “well, that’s the law, sorry.” Ironically, there was a news report just this week that the U.S. government is considering building an Eisenhower Memorial in Washington D.C. It’s appalling to think that a president who denied honorable service members benefits should have a memorial built in his honor, at least not until this gross injustice has been rectified.
Hardy, a cancer survivor who still plays tennis a couple of times a week and enjoys a comfortable lifestyle, said it’s not about financial or medical hardship for him. He has private health insurance and owns his home. For him, it’s about finally receiving recognition for his service to our country. His ultimate goal is to achieve the respect and recognition that he is so long overdue to receive. I bring you this story because Sgt. Hardy is not just any soldier, he is my dad. If any vets, or anyone knowledgeable about veteran’s benefits, has any information to share or can help, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To my father, and all our active and retired service members, thank you for your sacrifice and protecting the freedoms that we, as Americans, hold so dear.
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