Strength Found in Unity
"The one thing that always unified the American people during the Vietnam War was the plight of our POWs," Mr. Perot told the Defense Media Network. "We had the biggest parade in the history of San Francisco, and we had only one demonstrator."
Veterans never forgot Mr. Perot’s tireless support, often sending him personalized gifts, medals, dog tags or even their boots worn while in combat.
In 1974, in recognition of his work on behalf of POWs, he received the Defense Department’s Medal for Distinguished Public Service, its highest honor for civilians. In 2004, the Business Executives for National Security honored his long-standing service to veterans with the Eisenhower Award, a presentation attended by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and many Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.
"If we are going to send our young men and women into the theater of battle, we must do everything we can to take care of them during their service – and in the aftermath," he said. "I have always felt that it was the least I could do to recognize these soldiers and the brave sacrifices they have made for our nation."
After the first Gulf War, when a U.S.-led coalition expelled the Iraqi army from Kuwait in 1991, he funded research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center on neurotoxic brain ailments many soldiers were experiencing.
Most of the medical establishment assumed their problems were stress-related psychological issues, but Mr. Perot provided unrestricted research funds to look into it. The medical school identified the likely cause of the organic brain abnormalities as exposure to small amounts of neurotoxic chemicals while in the combat zone.
The Department of Veterans Affairs later recognized the ailment as Gulf War Syndrome, which led to federally funded treatment of those suffering its debilitating symptoms.
Mr. Perot’s efforts on behalf of veterans came in ways big and small. In an example repeated countless times over, Mr. Perot was there for Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch, an Army Ranger from Pennsylvania who was blinded in 2003 in Iraq.
He had been guarding a dam near Baghdad when an artillery shell burst 100 feet away. A piece of shrapnel struck his face, slicing through his right eye and severely damaging the optic nerve of his left eye.
He was in a medically induced coma for more than a month. After he awoke, his parents told him he was totally – and irreversibly – blind. He spent part of his recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Mr. Perot later arranged for evaluation and treatment at UT Southwestern and Harvard Medical School.
Now retired, Sgt. Feldbusch said he remains honored for having served his country and will not let his injuries define him. He became the first spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project and pushed for federal legislation to aid severely wounded soldiers.
"For those who fought and almost died," Mr. Perot said, "freedom has a taste the protected will never know."