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For most people, Veterans Day comes once a year; for Jack Monahan, every day is Veterans Day. Jack, who lives in Essex, is administrator of the State of Connecticut's Soldiers' Sailors' and Marines' Fund (SSMF). The fund provides aid for Connecticut's wartime veterans in need.
This year, Veterans Day has one difference: the day itself. Veterans Day is Nov. 11, but because that is a Sunday, the federal holiday will be celebrated on Monday, Nov. 12. The Nov. 11 date stems from World War I, when the armistice that ended the conflict was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
Connecticut's SSMF was formed not long after the end of the war in 1919. The initial idea was to give each of the state's war veterans, many of whom were unemployed, a one-time cash bonus of $30, but in the end, Connecticut chose another path. By combining all the money that would have been used for bonuses, some $2.5 million in all, the state established a trust to help the veterans most in need, and that trust, SSMF, has now existed for nearly 100 years.
"It was a very enlightened moment," Jack says. "What was done was one of the most enlightened social policies of the 20th century."
The original legislation provided that the American Legion would administer the trust and, as treasurer of the American Legion in Connecticut, Jack is the man responsible for the job today.
By law, SSMF's assistance is limited to soldiers who have served in wartime, the dates of which are set by statute. For world wars I and II, United States entry into the fighting and the cessation of hostilities are matters of historical record, but the boundaries become less clear for more recent military engagements. The result, Jack explains, is that any honorably discharged veteran who meets the eligibility requirements from Aug. 2, 1990 to the present can receive SSAF aid.
Assistance usually isn't in direct cash grants; rather, bills are submitted to SSAF, which can cover expenses like rent, heat, and food. In some cases, for unemployed veterans with no social security and families, cash grants of up to $1,000 are possible.
Widows of the servicemen, as well as the soldiers themselves, are eligible. In fact, many recipients of SSAF assistance are the wives of servicemen who have passed away. According to Jack, the typical widow of a World War II veteran receiving SSAF help is probably in her 80s, living in low-income housing on a fixed income.
"We can do a one-time food voucher, [or] pay the light bill, rent, or [for] fuel oil. In this environment, it gives people a lift," Jack explains.
Jack decided on a military career after he graduated from the University of Rhode Island. He admits it was an unconventional decision.
"To say my mother was not happy would be an understatement," he recalls. "My father, I think, was puzzled, but proud.
He was an infantryman, assigned to the 3rd Infantryman Regiment in Fort Myers, Virginia, better known as the Old Guard. The regiment, formed in 1784, is the oldest active unit of infantry in the Army and is seen most often by the public in one of its ceremonial duties, firing cannon shots in honor of the president of the United States and foreign dignitaries.
After selection for Officer Candidate School, Jack was commissioned in 1977 and served in various capacities in tank battalions before taking his military career in a different direction. He joined the Army's Foreign Area Officer program, studying German at the army language school in Monterey, California, and earning a master's degree in European studies at Cornell University.
In his final military posting, he was in charge of disarmament inspections for the On-Site Inspection Agency (now the Defense Threat Reduction Agency). He had to liaison with his German counterparts, explain to U.S. Army personnel what their responsibilities under the inspection treaty were, and conduct the inspections. He was involved in arms control inspection missions to Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine, among others.
After 20 years of service, Jack retired as a major, settling in Essex, where his wife's family lived. As he reflects on today's Army, it saddens him that the military no longer seems to be a career that draws volunteers from all walks of life.
"I lament that. The military used to attract society's elites," he notes, pointing out that in World War II, the late John Chaffee, scion of an old Rhode Island family and who was governor of Rhode Island, a United States senator, and secretary of the Navy in the Nixon Administration, served as a Marine Corps captain in World War II.
As Jack sees it, though, the mood is changing. He sees a renewed pride in military service. He points out that Yale University welcomed Air Force and Naval ROTC, organizations that were banned in the Vietnam era, back to campus (after the services changed their recruiting policies).
"We have returned to an appreciation of sacrifice, and to an understanding of the sacrifices made on our behalf," he says.
Although he understands that military action is not always popular, Jack points out that there is an important difference to consider as Veterans Day approaches: the difference between the conflict and the combatant.
"We can make a distinction between the merits of the war, and the merits of the warrior," he says.
For information on SSMF, visit www.ct.gov/ssmf.