This coming Monday, Veterans Day, we hope you’ll join us in taking time to recognize the sacrifices made by members of our military. To each and every one of our veterans, especially our union brothers and sisters who have served, we salute you.
If it hadn’t been for his hearing loss, Phil Meader might never have received two medals earned while serving in Vietnam.
Meader, who’s an adjunct professor at Great Bay Community College and an SEA member, had initially started digging online to see if his hearing loss was related to his military service. That eventually led him to search for medals that he’d earned but was never presented. He was officially presented those medals by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen during a ceremony on Monday, four decades after he served.
The Ossipee native started his military service early — just after high school, he signed up for the Air Force. He went on to serve 39 months, all during the Vietnam war.
“I did some time in Japan, two tours in Vietnam and a tour in Thailand,” Meader said. “Then I came home and said ‘enough’s enough, I want to be a civilian.’ ”
Still in his early 20s, he went to college on the GI bill and largely moved on from his military days.
“When we came back from southeast Asia, no one wanted to deal with us,” he said. “The war wasn’t popular.”
“You just put all that behind you and tried to move on,” Meader said.
Jumping ahead to the present, he’s been teaching at Great Bay for the last 15 years. At a recent veterans’ conference, a friend shared some news she’d read about hearing loss among veterans.
“I found out that it’s not just from being old, it’s from being exposed to the jet aircraft,” he said. “I decided to pursue it with the VA, and that was a piece of cake because I had all the documentation.”
A physical exam at the VA hospital turned up other health complications, but these were related to exposure to Agent Orange — an herbicide used by the military during Vietnam. He needed to prove that his health problems were the result of Agent Orange exposure, so he reached out for help. Gerald Avery of the state’s Veteran’s Council helped get the paperwork started, but backlogs at the VA stalled the progress. Again, he reached out for help, but this time to Sen. Shaheen’s office.
“I talked to one of her staff members, Peter Clark, and he told me the status of my request,” Meader said. Encouraged by the progress, Meader said he started wondering about medals he may have earned. After requesting his records, he found there were two medals he qualified for — the Vietnam Service Medal and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
“I put in for the medals, and I asked Peter Clark to follow up,” he said. The Air Force confirmed that he qualified and sent him the paperwork awarding the medals along with the actual medals.
Shaheen’s staffer Clark asked if Meader would like the senator to officially present the medals to him.
“I said, yeah, that’d be kind of neat to receive the recognition 43 years after the fact,” Meader said. “I got a call last Thursday asking if I’d come in Monday for the ceremony.”
Shaheen and three National Guard officers were on hand Monday to present the medals to Meader and four other veterans.
“It was a great privilege to honor these brave and selfless veterans this morning with recognition that was long overdue,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for our country and we owe it to them, and their families, to honor their service.”
After the ceremony, Meader was appreciative but also deferential to his fellow veterans.
“There’s a lot more deserving of those awards than me, but it’s nice to get the recognition after all these years,” Meader said.