The United States has a tradition of recognizing our veterans who serve overseas during holidays. Often, this time of year, the Commander-in-Chief will visit troops in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan to thank them for their service. We pray for the safety of those who protect our freedom.
Many veterans return from war to become successful business people and community leaders. Their in-service leadership experience is a valuable asset transferable to many civilian jobs. Many of our veterans return with a sharpened sense of our nation’s problems, and become more active as voting citizens, sometimes, as in the case of Nebraskans, Bob Kerrey and Chuck Hagel, they successfully run for office and continue to serve their country. All veterans, like all other citizens, should remain informed and serious-minded voters. A spectator democracy is a contradiction in terms.
Unfortunately some of our veterans return with permanent physical and mental injuries. Sometimes those disabilities are contributing factors when a veteran finds himself on the wrong side of the law. Many states have created special veterans’ courts to deal with these issues. In a recent Supreme Court case, the Court found that leniency toward our combat veterans in recognition of their service is a tradition to be followed.
George Porter was an infantry soldier injured in the Korean War and decorated for his contributions in two major engagements with the enemy. He fought in some of the most decisive battles of that war and returned home a “traumatized, changed man” suffering from mental disorders and physical injuries. Porter was tried and convicted of first-degree murder for killing his girlfriend and her boyfriend and was sentenced to death. Apparently Porter’s lawyer was unaware of his military service. The court found Porter’s lawyer ineffective at sentencing for failing address the defendant’s military service, combat injuries, and other mitigating factors. The Court sent the case back for re-sentencing so that these factors could be considered.
In deciding the case in Porter’s favor the United States Supreme Court stated: “Our Nation has a long tradition of according leniency to veterans in recognition of their service, especially for those who fought on the front lines.” Porter v. McCollum, 130 S.Ct. 447 (2009).
Porter’s case is a reminder that justice must not only be done when determining a person’s innocence or guilt, but also when determining an appropriate punishment. More importantly, it reminds us of our tradition of providing leniency to those who protect our freedom and allow us peace and justice.